Fact: a lot of smartphone users do not have internet access, which makes these phones a lot less smart than they should be. The reason? Mostly cost: data is expensive. It is not uncommon for telcos to offer “bundles” whereby people can buy unlimited access to, say, Whatsapp and/or Facebook. The downside is that one will pay horrendous prices when trying to browse anything else on the regular web.

And that’s what a lot of people in Zimbabwe have to deal with. Good news is, there are ways around it for them thanks to iHarare, “Zimbabwe’s loudest internet newspaper”. iHarare serves news, classifieds, etc. as most online newspapers do, but they also run a Whatsapp Bot for users who are stuck with the above bundles:

Put their number into your contacts, and write like you would to your friends. Except that instead of asking “What’s up?” you will pick a number from the above menu. Like 6, for “Wiki”:

Let us say that today we are into crumpets – the pinnacle of Britsih cuisine if there is any. Will Wikipedia deliver? Of course it will!

Click on the link you want and behold! Learn something you never knew you needed to know:

So yes, you can browse Wikipedia from within Whatsapp. Or can you? Well yes, and no: iHarare’s bot would normally need to connect to the wiki servers in the US and as we have seen, international connectivity isn’t that great or cheap. So they worked around it and used a locally stored (=offline) copy of Wikipedia which they can they query at will via Kiwix-serve.

Whereas a normal data flow would be

User -> iHarare Server -> Wikimedia Server -> iHarare Server -> User

We instead have

User -> iHarare Server with Kiwix on it -> User

The only effort on iHarare’s part is to update their Wikipedia/Wiktionary ZIM file every once in a while to keep up with the ever-growing Sum of All Human Knowledge.

And since you’re asking, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets is an Aussie rock band. Way to go, Australia.