The Wikireader

Just over a month ago I bought a Wikireader [1] from Officeworks (an Australian chain of stores that sell all manner of office supplies). It cost only $99, thanks to Brianna for informing me about this [2]. When I purchased my Wikireader an Officeworks employee had to get one from the back office and told me that I was the first person to buy one. I suggested to him that when a product isn’t mentioned in their advertising and isn’t put on the shelves it’s unlikely to sell in quantity and that they shouldn’t rely on bloggers to promote what is possibly one of the most desirable products that they stock.

The Wikireader stores a copy of the text of the English language version of Wikipedia on a micro-SD card. They have a service whereby you can get two updates posted to you every year for $29, which would make it pretty close to free once postage and the cost of the micro-SD cards is taken into account. Also you can download new content. I have no immediate plans for updating my Wikireader as the content is more than good enough to answer idle questions while waiting for a bus but as it’s lacking external links due to no net access and images it can’t be used for serious Wiki reading IMHO.

Brianna has documented the process of updating a Wikireader to add more content [3], she added the Chinese version and discovered that inter-wiki links are preserved! I have no immediate plans to add extra content (I don’t know any other language well enough to read an encyclopaedia). Also an 8GB MicroSD card (which is the minimum requirement to use multiple languages) costs $35 and is a significant portion of the original purchase price.

In terms of functionality the device is pretty good. The screen is not back-lit, but if it was then the two AA batteries wouldn’t last anywhere near a year. The screen is not high resolution and the touch functionality isn’t particularly accurate or sensitive – but I guess that’s a necessary trade-off to get the $99 price. The Wikipedia content seems quite complete, so far the only page which I found to be missing was the bio of an Australian architect, I’m not sure if his page was removed from the Wikireader to save space or whether my device has a snapshot that predates the addition of the page.

The Wikipedia page about downloading the database is interesting [4], it’s 6GB of compressed data for the text of the English pages (not including history or talk pages) and for years they haven’t even tried to provide a dump of the images. So I guess that a Wikireader that displays pictures is out of the question.

The Wikireader has a parental filter, in my quick tests the only page that has been blocked is “Sexual Intercourse“, I could read all about safe-sex, infidelity, and lots of other related “adult” topics without being asked for a password. It also shows pages about “goatse” and other related things without asking for a password – NB if you don’t know what “goatse” is then you probably don’t want to learn, trust me that it’s something that most people won’t want their children to learn about. The filter is so bad that I think they shouldn’t include it, it will just give people false confidence. It’s OK to sell a cheap device that is designed to give a detailed description of goatse etc on request to anyone, but IMHO it’s not OK to sell such a device with a claim that it is “kid safe” and has “parental controls“. Note that holding down the History button will allow you to clear your history – this is useful if you have just verified that goatse isn’t blocked and you want to give the device to a young child.

There is a button to give a random page, I believe that this would be more useful if it had some metric to make it more often return pages that might be interesting. It could weight the randomness by the length of the page (usually a longer page is more interesting to more people and has more links to other pages) or by some other metric that indicates the potential popularity. Random links often get me pages about obscure country towns and other things that probably aren’t of interest to people who don’t live near them.

But overall this is a great product, $99 is not much to pay, and I recommend getting one!

3 comments to The Wikireader

  • Goatse is a very good example of why parental control is a concept that doesn’t work. You cannot assume a machine will be able to filter out content for your child to view, unless it is more clever than your child.

  • etbe

    Goatse as used on the wider Internet is an example of how parental controls fail. But Goatse in a constrained environment (such as the data set which is chosen to be copied to the Wikireader) is quite a different story.

    How hard would it be to hire a dozen university students (who are often poor and don’t require great salaries) and get them to make a good list of Wikipedia pages about distasteful topics? Most students already have a really good idea of where to look for such things!

  • I need some referrer kickbacks :)

    The most annoying thing IMO is the lack of table based data. For infoboxes and navboxes it doesn’t matter but some pages (like ‘list of episodes of X’) pretty much the whole page is a table.