That means that a lot of people are going to be very confused when they turn to search engines Wednesday morning to do some light research into the random facts of the day.
Pop just about any query into your preferred search engine and it’s likely that if there is a Wikipedia page on the subject, it will be one of your first hits. Can’t remember the capital of Vermont? Montpelier, third hit. Who was the 23rd U.S. President? First hit, Benjamin Harrison. Even a Google search for SOPA itself pulls up the Wikipedia entry as the first hit, after news.
Nearly half of all Wikipedia users end up there because of the site’s prime real estate at the top of search results, according to an October study from the site, and many people specifically look for Wikipedia results in search.
Another popular Web service, Reddit, is also blacking out its Web sites, as are other Web companies and organizations such as Boing Boing, Mozilla and the Cheezburger Network.
So how do sites like Reddit or Wikipedia pull their content offline?
For starters, they set up a page that tells consumers why they’re blocking their content and what they want their users to do to support their cause. In Reddit’s case, the company will have a homepage that provides users with information about why the service is down and gives them the opportunity to add their voice to the protest.
A service as big as Reddit “doesn’t take this decision lightly,” said the social news service’s co-founder, Alexis Ohanian. “We want [the service] to be down for the day, but don’t want to be totally crippled the next day.” Reddit is telling search engines such as Google that, essentially, its site is temporarily down and will be directing users to a main page to keep them updated on its protest activities around the country.
Wikipedia is taking a different approach, pulled from their fundraising playbook, that will place a graphic outlining Wikipedia’s position on every page — likely a dark screen, with a “W” and links pointing to ways users can take action, according to Wikimedia’s head of communications, Jay Walsh.
Google declined to comment officially on how it will deal with the blacked-out site in its search. A thread on Google’s Webmaster forums , however, recommends that sites that want to participate in a blackout use a certain type of code that essentially tells the search engine that the site is temporarily down. That way, the sites will be blocked from the public Web without being identified as a broken site.