Wikipedia boycott set to show the limits of crowdsourcing

Wikipedia's self-imposed blackout may have garnered lots of publicity but will ultimately prove to be ineffective

Many in the UK will be waking up to find that Wikipedia - or at least the English language version is blacked out for the next 24 hours.

This is in protest at US legislators attempting to crack a nut with a sledgehammer with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP (PIP.) Those opposed to the legislation believe that it is too widely drawn and therefore could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle innovation.

The main proponents of the new laws are, unsurprisingly, media people with the likes of Rupert Murdoch one of its more vocal supporters. Whatever your position on this topic Wikipedia's action, while brave, will likely have little direct impact. Here's why:

  1. Wikipedia is available in all other languages so if your needs are non-English, no problem.
  2. You can still access Wikipedia by accessing the Google cached page of whatever you are searching on. Here's an example.
  3. If you don't want to access via cache then simply disabling Javascript in the browser should do the job.
  4. The black out started at 5am UK time. This protest is really aimed at US legislation. That means its immediate impact is diminished because the protest started at midnight ET or 9pm PT. While there is no recent research on the topic, I am willing to bet that the majority of English speaking users are US based.
  5. While support for the SOPA protest is spreading, very few of the large scale cloud infrastructure are doing much of note. Even Google only has a message in small type on its home page saying: 'Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!'

The protest will get plenty of airplay but if that is all it does then it will have been a great example of how crowdsourcing really doesn't work.

But all of that might be irrelevant because the Obama administration has asked legislators to rethink. That's more likely to get attention than anything anyone else wants. Including Wikipedia and its English speaking users.

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