Posted at 01:56 PM ET, 01/20/2012

Wikipedia blackout: Lessons we learned from #altwiki

Jimmy Wales, glad your crew is back on the job.

When Wikipedia shut down its main English-language site in a one-day protest against new Internet rules proposed by Congress, reporters, researchers, online producers, readers and librarians joined in to help students, trivia freaks and others on Wednesday.

This screen shot shows the blacked-out WikipediaWeb site, announcing a 24-hour protest against the "Stop Online Piracy Act," or "SOPA," and the "Protect IP Act," or "PIPA." (AP Photo/Wikipedia)
We all pitched in on the Twitter hashtag #altwiki to handle a torrent of requests. Who’s Austria’s chancellor? Which uranium isotope is used in nuclear weapons production (trick question)? Why is the Beatles’ tribute show called RAIN?

What did we learn?

1. It was fun to help. Much of the material for answers came from primary sources found via Google. One — about the call letters for the Chicago public radio station WBEZ — took a little phone reporting. (The B and E stand for Chicago Board of Education; the Z is a lightning symbol that was often used for radio in the station’s early days, its general manager and CEO told us. See more of our questions, answered

2. The whole Dear Abby/Ann Landers thing, explained. At NPR News, research librarian Jo Ella Straley tackled the issue of twins named Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther — “Who does that?’’ — who ended up running competing columns.

3. Curiosity doesn’t take a time-out. Why is static worse in the winter? Who performed the first heart transplant? The difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt? (The Greek variety has more protein, less sugar, is higher in fat, tangier, creamer).

After a tiring but interesting day, it’s fair to say one-day Altwikians had a deeper appreciation and understanding of the diligence and passion of Wikipedians.

More reading:

Blog Post: What are SOPA and PIPA?

Blog Post: Wikipedia blackout: An #altwiki Band-Aid

Politics: SOPA protests shut down Web sites

Style blog: How to survive the Wikipedia blackout

Style: With blackout, some rest for the Wikied

ComPost: Why we need trivia — censorshop and the Wikipedia blackout

By  |  01:56 PM ET, 01/20/2012

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