This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2005, Frankfurt, Germany.




Editing notes:

  • Needs to be written in prose

Cellphedia inspirations and future

  • Author(s): Limor Garcia
  • License: TBD
  • Language: English
  • Slides: Flash (Please click once on title screen and then use arrow-keys to flip thru slides)
  • Video: {{{video}}}
  • Note: Presentation, 15 to 20 minutes

About the author(s): I have an architectural past and technological future. I have earned a BFA from the Interior Design major at FIT in New York City. After the 9/11 tragedy, I had decided to go back to school. Through 2 years of an intense course of study at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, I have learned how to program, built electrical circuits (and burn some fingers in the process:), program computer chips, act, philosophize... and much more. I earned a Masters degree and went off to work as an Associate Producer at R/GA in New York. I also slowly work to improve Cellphedia. More about me and my work - MySite

Abstract: {{{abstract}}}



Cellphedia is the first ubiquitous social encyclopedia.

Cellphedia started as a thesis project and turned into a full-functioning mobile-device service for all to use. It provides the ability to carry all the knowledge of the world in your pocket (well, almost). Users can register online, join specific groups of interests, and start using the service by sending each other text messages in the form of questions or answers.

Through exchange of Email messages with Samuel Klein (one of wikimania's organizers), he brought up the idea of cellphones screens becoming bigger and thus able to present larger amounts of text. I had a similar observation, but at the same time contemplated about the conflicting concept of making technology transparent. The attempt to make technology part of the ambient environment, is expressed through the design of smaller and thinner devices. Wikipedia contains expended definitions for which a larger mobile device would be suitable. In contrast, Cellphedia built with mobility and speed in mind, aims in keeping definitions very brief; thus, could be used with a smaller screen. Metaphorically, It's like taking slices of Wikipedia when you need to know quick facts on the run.

In my presentation, I have provided some examples of existing questions and their answers sent by Cellphedia users. I then presented those against wikipedia's definitions. This was an interesting exploration as I realized that many of Cellphedia's brief answers appeared within the first paragraph or even sentence of a Wikipedia definition respectively. The purpose of such comparison was to illustrate a fictional scenario where users may be able to receive brief answers to their questions through SMS by searching the many definitions on Wikipedia using their mobile devices.

Check my application at

Presentation details



1. Description

  • Application for mobile-phone using SMS
    • Ubiquitous social encyclopedia.
      Cellphedia is an application I created for mobile phones that enables its users to send and receive up-to-date encyclopedia-type information amongst each other, on the go. I call it - a ubiquitous social encyclopedia.
    • Related website
      Through a related website users can join the service and create a profile for themselves. Through this process they are asked to join a group of their interest (like, Art, Politics, music, etc.).
    • The physical world
      Users are able to interact with other users through sending text messages. Users can either ask a short straight forward question (like "The age of Queen Elizabeth" or "how long is the brooklyn bridge") or ask for a definition (like "cronjob", "ad hoc"). Their query will then circulate amongst users within the same group of interest. If they know the answers, users are able to reply to the queries. users are being rated for their contribution to the service in replying for the queries.
  • Rational
    • Social reference search
      Searching for a definition or anything is usually an isolated event as it includes the person searching and a source of reference (either the internet or a book). Wikipedia has taken reference search to the next level by making it closer to being a social activity with opening their data base and letting anyone add or edit definitions. With Cellphedia, I'm taking another step in the social interaction. The definitions are created in real-time on the spot so you feel closer to the actual act of face-to-face interaction with a person.
    • Sharing the knowledge
      Sometime we all get the urge in wanting to know everything. Nevertheless, we do try to focus on just a few areas, because spreading ourselves thin is never a positive thing. I built Cellphedia for all to have those many bits of knowledge of an unfamiliar field, with them at all times. My rational for this is due to the fact that Wikipedia is probably the number one proof of the great desire to share knowledge. I realized that when you provide people with a tool they can benefit from, the level of collaboration and contribution is pretty high. Furthermore, when the tool is open to be modified and constructed by its users, there is a great sense of responsibility in keeping it accurate and functional.
    • Getting information on the run
      Many times I wished I had an encyclopedia computer chip embedded in my brain. So if I walk in street and suddenly wonder about a building I see or a flower I found, or anything that just comes to mind, I will be able to activate my brain chip search by moving a finger for example. Well, such procedure is not being conducted...YET. so as an alternative I created Cellphedia. You still move your finger to get answers to your questions but you need to read them off your cell phone screen.

2. Inspiration

    • Definitions become "alive"
      The success of Wikipedia is indicative for people's desire to other means of research; less stale, more dynamic and changing. For example: Encyclopedia Britannica is being updated every couple of years. With the rapidly advancing technology, many definitions keep changing and new ones emerge constantly. A definition on Wikipedia becomes "alive" as it is constantly modified and becomes the essence and personal representation of those who modify it.
    • 4 dimensional social interaction [link]
      Created last year by Dennis Crowley and Alex Reinart. It is referred to as MoSoSo (Mobile Social Software) and it takes social interaction for the mobile-phone community to the next level. Through dodgeball users can broadcast their whereabouts and get connected with friends and friends of friends. So what really happens to physical social interaction when mobile device is being use as never before? - it gets a 4th dimension.
    • Life before google?
      I can't remember life before google or any search engine for that matter. Google lab had recently come out with a new application on Beta release called Google SMS, where, similarly to my application, users are able to send quarries and get an SMS reply with the answer. But unlike Cellphedia and Wikipedia, there is no human interaction or collaboration which is the key for the success of such - what I call - "organic" applications .

3. How it works - Diagram

4. Integrate with wikipedia

  • Comparison
    • Questions / Answers
      In both applications a user can find answers to their questions. With Cellphedia the questions are present and answers are short and focused. Most of the answers Cellphedia's questions can be found on Wikipedia, as a matter of fact, many answers can be found within the first sentence of the Wikipedia's definition.
    • Speed element important VS. no speed necessary
      One of cellphedia's core elements is speed. Using a cellphone usually means to be on the run, hence a user needs the answer as soon as he sends his question. The amount of time it takes from the moment he is acquiring to the time he's satisfied with an answer is very important here. With Wikipedia, a user can find answers instantly, although the speed element is less significant as the user is not on the run.
    • Time-stamp
      The time element is one of the most important aspects of both Wikipedia and cellphedia. This refreshing approach is what keep users coming back. We all know the world is rapidly changing and we all try to keep up. In these organic apps definitions are never stale for too long, they keep changing often momentarily.
  • Possibilities
    • Add special quarry section to each definition
      When a user answers a question, back-end code can search for answer within the definition text. If not found, the question and answer will enter the quarry section so users of wikipedia can see what are the questions people ask about certain definitions, and by noticing patterns, the smart wikipedia contributors may be able to form better definitions in the future. i.e. - Wikipedia definition: Lamb. Cellphedia question (not in definition text): is lamb red meat? Answer: Yes.
    • WH questions
      Someone had mentioned to me that Wikipedia can seamlessly move into the mobile phone realm since these days cellphones are designed with wider screens, I, on the other hand feel that there is a constant attempt to make technology as transparent as possible, and those creating smaller and thinner phones. With such contradiction, it's difficult to predict where it's all going. But one way to go about and be able to bring Wikipedia into our cellphones is through the WH questions: basically, the first line of each definition in wikipedia answers a WH question of that definition: why, what, where, when etc. Answers to many cellphedia questions can be found within that first line of a wikipedia definition, and most cellphedia questions are WH. There could be a back-end code that associates the corresponding WH word to the first line of each definition, another code can parse the incoming question for the definition and the wh words to check if the answer is within the first line of the long and detailed definition.
    • SMS "Recent changes" alerts
      Since wikipedia is constantly being modified and improved online, a cellphone user can be remembered for a question they asked and get an SMS alert whenever a definition they acquired about is being modified. This SMS message should include only the text of the new modification.

5. Future Outlook

  • Improve methods for monitoring liability
    Ultimately, as the app exists by its users, just as Wikipedia, it should be run by its users as much as possible.
  • Users create private groups
  • Reputation system
    Create a trustworthy reputation system. i.e. users will have rating for both accuracy of answers and speed of sending them.
  • More statistics
    Continuing with the statistics on the first page of the c-knowledge, there will be more specific stats about the most asked question, and again focusing on the speed element, stats can indicated the longest time for answering, the shortest and longest answer/questions, etc.

6. Conclusion
It is apparent that computers are getting smaller, and as we get more familiar with their functionality, computers are also becoming simpler. On the other hand Cell-phones are getting larger as they offer more features. Along with this process, social applications arise and evolve to align with this hardware evolution. A fusion of those two types of hardware is likely to happen in the not so distant future. When we hit this blob, how will this effect the boundaries between the different types of social interactions? MoSoSo (Mobile Social Software) applications such as Cellphedia and Dodgeball turn physical interactions into textual ones. Wikipedia offers the knowledge-share social interaction with a time-gap between posts. It may even turn to an audible social experience in the future. With such a blend of interactions through the integration of hardware possibilities, I have to wonder if this is the end of social boundaries as we know them.