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Wikipedia Aims to Become More Mobile, Global

The nonprofit's new executive director says mobile changes who they can reach and how they can do it.

Asa Mathat

Wikimedia’s new executive director said the nonprofit is betting heavily on mobile as it strives to reach new audiences in developing regions and stay on top of shifting trends throughout the world.

“The majority of our investments are now going into product and engineering, and within that the majority is starting to go into mobility,” said Lila Tretikov at Code/Mobile, in one of her first public appearances since taking the role in May.

The shift is important for the organization behind Wikipedia, the fifth-most popular destination online, because citizens in poorer pockets of the world often come online for the first time through smartphones and other mobile devices.

But it reflects changing realities everywhere. Recent ComScore figures showed that the majority of Wikipedia visits in North America now arrive via mobile too, she said.

Tretikov said most of the site’s growth, both in readers and contributors, is now coming from outside of North America and Europe. That international expansion checks two key goals for Wikimedia: Advancing its core mission of spreading free knowledge to the world and helping to diversify its voices. The organization has been criticized in the past for its preponderance of Western male editors and contributors.

Tretikov said Wikipedia has struck deals with an array of global carriers to offer free access to the crowdsourced encyclopedia on their networks. In some cases those arrangements led to a doubling of local usage, including in the Philippines.

Wikimedia’s mission is in part a personal one for Tretikov, who grew up in the Soviet Union and saw firsthand how daily life shifted as the government became more transparent under glasnost policies.

“It really hits close to home to me,” she said during the interview with Re/code’s Liz Gannes. “Once things started to open up the country changed significantly.”

Tretikov took on the role at Wikimedia after eight years at SugarCRM, most recently as chief product officer. Before that she worked at Sun Microsystems and founded GrokDigital, an online design company.

She is essentially tasked with keeping the site free, accurate, comprehensive and objective, amid declining volunteers, accusations of inadequate diversity among its contributors and other inherent challenges of operating a crowdsourced encyclopedia.

Tretikov has been growing the organization and pushing it to adopt a greater tech focus in general, recently tapping Damon Sicore of Mozilla as the nonprofit’s first vice president of engineering.

They’ve added about 100 people in the last year, bringing the total to around 220, and will likely raise $60 million this year.

Tretikov said that shift to mobile also changes the way people consume and contribute to the site. With shorter and more frequent visits come quicker contributions and tighter summaries.

“All of this is changing,” she said. “It’s going to become much more real time.”

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