Things you might have done while Wikipedia was down

This has been a crazy week for the World Wide Web, and those of us who depend so heavily upon it definitely took notice. Wikipedia led the charge in the fight for a free Internet by going offline, and the rest of the tech community followed suit. Google blacked out their logo, and popular message board Reddit shut down for a day. What does that mean for you and me?

Around midnight on Tuesday, chances are you were probably trying to do something important or finishing some last-minute homework and needed to look something up. Of course, you turned to trusty-dusty Wikipedia to answer the simple question you probably could have asked your roommate (Even though you really were genuinely surprised to learn that Bono’s real name is Paul). Or perhaps you had a nagging desire to see a list of common misconceptions (my personal favorite article), or maybe you just wanted to understand the basics of string theory (In this case, though, a Wikipedia article probably wouldn’t help you).

When your hands flew over the keyboard, you felt the familiar pattern of the keys like a virtuoso on their instrument of choice. Wikipedia was your target, and you were the hunter.

You arrived, however, to a black screen. WHAT?! you think. At such an important time, how could the ever-present, ever-reliable Wikipedia have let you down? We’re entitled to free public knowledge, right?

Like many other people, you probably had a minor meltdown.

Wikipedia’s blackout was a political statement. Two weeks ago, I wrote a column on SOPA, the poorly-thought-out bill circulating through Congress. SOPA intends to limit the venues that copyright violators have access to, which indirectly makes the Internet a much more hostile place for sharing and collaboration. SOPA’s sister bill in the Senate, PIPA, would reform the way we as Internet users are able to claim intellectual property.

If you’re a Twitter user, follow @herpderpedia for some hilarious, but foul panic attacks about the website’s sudden demise.

So, rather than provide users with their usual content all day, Wikipedia stopped displaying their vast array of information, replaced it with the who, what, where and why on SOPA and then asked you to contact your senator or local legislator to let your voice be heard. To my knowledge, State Senator Jon Kyl’s voicemail box was full after we all woke up and realized that a world without an open and collaborative Internet is a scary one.

So to fill time, perhaps you wanted to look at funny pictures of cats with text superimposed over them. Sorry, Cheezburger Network was down too. January 18,2012 will forever be known as “the day the LOLcats died.”

With Wikipedia unusable, maybe you decided to dust off the old Encarta 95 discs back at your parents’ house. Something is better than nothing.

The last thing you probably wanted to do was your homework, but with the opportune shutdown of the ASU network on Wednesday, you earned yourself a night off to watch the Internet madness unfold.

Reach the columnist at aamentze@asu.edu, or follow her on Twitter @soupsnake

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