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While we in Silicon Valley twiddle our thumbs over a panoply of smart devices, much of the rest of the world still uses feature phones, and the smartest, fastest-growing websites are those that still focus on feature phone users.

Take Wikipedia, for example. Earlier in 2012, the Wikimedia Foundation announced Wikipedia Zero, an initiative to make Wikipedia browsing free of data charges for the users who most urgently need access to information. The project also focuses on making text-only pages that will load quickly on less high-tech devices with slower network access.

Carriers in Asia and Africa have been quick to jump onboard, and today, the foundation is announcing significant growth as a direct result of the program, with pageview spikes in Niger, Kenya, and Malaysia.

For example, carrier Orange showed a 77 percent growth in Niger and an 88 percent growth in Kenya over a four-month period between June 2012 and September 2012. And in the same time period, Digi (a Telenor subsidiary operating in Malaysia) reported 42 percent growth in unique visitors to Wikipedia pages.

“These three data points make us really optimistic,” said Wikimedia mobile partnerships chief Amit Kapoor in a blog post on the news.

“They show growth, though we need to continually manage and measure to see if growth persists when we work with larger bases and also need to test what happens over time. We’ll share more data as we can, and we also hope to deep dive into a few markets over the next several months to learn exactly what type of partner marketing activity is most effective in driving the growth we described.”

Currently, in the United States, smartphones account for just half of all mobile phones, a stat that declines sharply when other countries around the world are added into the mix. And smartphone ownership is strongly linked to income, meaning poorer folks typically have less access to information, even though it likely has a greater ability to positively impact their lives.

Wikipedia Zero is currently active with 10 carriers around the world, and 22 more carriers are on a waitlist to get involved.

The foundation is also hard at work on a J2ME app. This platform, though practically dead in the U.S., is still huge in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Top image courtesy of erichon, Shutterstock


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