Yes, kids, there was a time when Wikipedia didn’t exist, and it looks like we’re going to be transported back to it on Wednesday, courtesy a 24-hour blackout of the English version of the site. That is what’s now expected as part of the broader protest over controversial online antipiracy bills currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.
“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!” wrote Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales on Twitter today.
Wikipedia’s online community has been debating whether to black out Wikipedia or take a partial measure, such as presenting an interstitial page before letting users proceed to the full site. Earlier today, Wales wrote on Twitter, “The emerging consensus of the community seems to be for a global blackout of English Wikipedia.”
It’s part of a broader campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the related Protect Intellectual Property Act. Opponents say SOPA goes too far by enabling the shutdown of sites accused of hosting copyright violations, which get an expanded definition under the bill.
Online properties including Cheezburger and Reddit are also planning protests, but Wikipedia is an online utility, more than anything else — as demonstrated by the fact that it sent alternatives such as Microsoft Encarta into the dustbin of history. Wikipedia’s move could very easily be the most attention-grabbing part of the broader protest against the bills, and result in a flood of calls to legislators as a result of the message that will be posted on the site.
Don’t look for Twitter to follow suit. In response to someone who asked if Twitter had the “cajones” to do the same, Twitter’ CEO Dick Costolo wrote, “that’s just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”
Costolo noted later that Twitter is working against SOPA and PIPA in other ways and said his use of the word “foolish” was referring specifically to the suggestion that Twitter shut down, not commenting on Wikipedia’s move. Twitter was among those that signed this letter opposing SOPA and PIPA back in November.