The SOPA blackout

From 5am GMT today, January 18, one of the top-ten most visited websites on the internet is unavailable for 24 hours – if you visit English-language Wikipedia, you’ll just get a page with a text concisely explaining why you can’t get the content you came for.

In a press release on January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation – owner of Wikipedia – said:

[…] the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, in protest against proposed legislation in the United States — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States.

(For more about SOPA and PIPA, Google has some easy-to-understand information focused on the US; the BBC looks at SOPA and PIPA from the broader international perspective.) [Later: BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones adds a depth assessment of SOPA and PIPA in his report Wikipedia – what can it tell us about Sopa?]

Wikipedia isn’t the only web resource to go offline today – other high-profile sites include Boing Boing and Reddit (the latter only for 12 hours). It’s notable that the heavyweights on the social web are conspicuous by their absence of action like today’s. So you’ll find business as usual at places like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

As a way to raise awareness of the twin legislative approaches being addressed by US elected representatives, it will undoubtedly have a big impact, particularly in the US. I wonder, though, what Wikipedia’s (and the others’) measurable goal is. Or is it sufficient to simply get awareness raised around the world and over time we might see some kind of result? After all, SOPA itself is off the legislative agenda for now.

Plenty of opinion on that.

In the meantime, what will you do if you can’t get Wikipedia content today? You could try others from a dozen alternative resources Mashable suggests. If you speak other languages and if you’re looking for explanations of things rather than simply linking to them, try the other language versions of Wikipedia – they’re all up.

Or simply postpone your “what, why, how and where” searching just for a day. It’ll all be there again tomorrow.

[Update 1100 GMT] I discovered that I can access much of Wikiepdia on the mobile website. So far, every page I’ve gone to on my mobile device has shown up.

Actually, the mobile website works on a desktop computer too. Try it for yourself. Not everything will show up – some links redirect to the main website and you’ll get the blackout overlay page. Best bet: use the mobile site on your mobile device if you can’t do without English Wikipedia for a day.

It’s not much of a blackout from what I can see.