Wikipedia Via Wi-Fi

By | August 10, 2005

I enjoyed reading this piece, somewhat belatedly, from Oliver Starr’s Mobile Weblog, where he describes a future where Wikipedia is no longer confined to the webpage but could be all around us: Location

Using your phone, as if it was a PC mouse, you uncover snippets of information from the world around you. You click on an old house in the road and a wealth of digital information comes onto your phone screen. Some contain video and audio links.

The technology that would allow this to happen is discussed, but it seems that Oliver doesn’t mention another option: Wi-Fi Positioning. I’ve been researching this for this week’s column (out on Friday, subscription only, I’m afraid), and it sounds to me a much better option, at least in urban areas.

I imagine it would work like this: Your Wi-Fi device (which soon will be as ubiquitous in a phone as in a PDA or laptop) will figure out where you are using Wi-Fi positioning (or, I suppose, if you’re at Stonehenge, this could be done via GPS).

If you’re prepared, you would have uploaded the PDA/phone ready version of Wikipedia for that part of the world, and the Wi-Fi positioning would pluck passages relevant to where you are (“you’re standing on a cobbled street built in 1765; the cobbles are hewn from a nearby quarry run by elves. Click here for directions to the quarry. Click here to meet an elf”.) Or it could give up a map of nearby entries and routes to them (with Wi-Fi positioning this could be inside a building as much as outside).

If you’re a visitor who hasn’t uploaded anything prior to the visit, participants in the project — local councils, individuals, owners of attractions — could store the relevant information on their Wi-Fi network and allow your unit to download it for viewing. This would not only mean that users who hadn’t thought of downloading the information before would still benefit, but folks who didn’t even know the service existed could prep their devices to make use of it. Needless to say, this downloaded information could also contain advertising.

This is in some ways similar to podcast guides, or sightseeing tours, or podguides, which offer spoken commentary on places. Wi-Fi positioning could make these all powerful tools, with little or no extra outlay on the part of end-users.

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