The Washington Post

Wikipedia blackout: How to survive it

In protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, popular Web sites such as Reddit, Boing Boing, and Wikipedia will go dark Wednesday, displaying only a message about their opposition to the controversial bill (Read more about SOPA here).

Wikipedia will shut down for 24 hours beginning at midnight Eastern Standard Time in protest of draft anti-online piracy legislation before Congress, founder Jimmy Wales said Monday on Twitter. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Scroll: Wikipedia is perfect for the lazy fact-checker, because it’s often the first result in any Google search. While Google may bump the Wikipedia pages to keep the best results near the top, that may not be such a bad thing.

Scroll a little further past the Wikipedia entries and you can find original sources — a.k.a, the places that Wikipedia editors cull their information from.

Google Books and Google Scholar are both good starting points. Also: JSTOR and DOAJ for scholarly journals, Project MUSE for academic research, and LexisNexis for news clippings and more (some may require memberships, but you can access them through a library). In fact, if you’re a student, you should be checking these instead of Wikipedia, anyway. The Wikipedia blackout could even improve your grades.

2. Try an encyclopedia: Breathe it in — that musty perfume of a set of tomes called “The Encyclopedia.” Maybe your parents own one. You can call it “Wikipedia Vintage,” if that sounds cooler. Reading the encyclopedia is like getting into vinyl. You could even be like writer A.J. Jacobs, and read the entire thing.

Wikipedia Vintage may not have the immediacy of its Web descendant, but its entries have withstood the test of time and importance. So, while the encyclopedia might not yet have an entry for Blue Ivy, it sure as heck will help you get your homework done.

3. There is this thing called a library: Try that quaint little bricks-and-mortar Wikipedia called a library. Call it Analog Wikipedia, perhaps, if you want to sound like you were into book-based knowledge before Wikipedia got big.

(Ad campaign from the Milwaukee Public Library)

4. Save your trivia for later: You are sitting at the dinner table and the conversation turns to, say, the weather. Ordinarily, you might dazzle your dining companions with your knowledge of climate by telling them that if they think it’s cold, they should try moving to Yakutsk, Russia, the coldest city (but not the coldest inhabited place!) on Earth.

“The average low in Yakutsk for January is -45 degrees Fahrenheit, and city is built on permafrost!” you’ll say, looking at your smartphone instead of your friends, and they’ll push their food around their plates and think to themselves that you are insufferable.

The Wikipedia blackout can give us a one-day reprieve from factual one-upmanship, and the practice of looking at our phones instead of at each other. On Wednesday, when you’d ordinarily turn to your phone for answers, think: “Do I really need to know this, right this second?”

5. Call your grandpa: Wikipedia knows a lot. But you know who else does? Your grandparents, who have lived through the events of hundreds of Wikipedia pages. Instead of some sterile citation-cobbled account of, say, film history, ask your grandparents what movies they saw when they were kids. Maybe they’ll end up telling you the story of their first date. It’s info that would have been edited out of any Wikipedia page — but it might be one of the best facts you’ve ever learned.

View Photo Gallery: It used to be that being a big donor, a pundit, an elected official or elder statesman was the way into the political elite. Today, it’s through HTML, javascript and ruby — in other words, computer programming.

More on SOPA/PIPA:

What happens when the Internet gets mad

Wonkblog: Sen. Wyden’s fight to stop SOPA

Oh, what a Wikiless world!

Innovations: Is Wikipedia still relevant?

Wikipedia blackout: An #altwiki band-aid

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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