Although the exact actions to be taken through the Wikipedia SOPA initiative are uncertain as of publication, there is general consensus for a single-day blackout on January 18, to coincide with similar actions by several other prominent sites. At the time of writing, the proposal for a full multinational blackout holds the widest support, with just under 500 editors in favour. Among the first to cover the story has been the CBS News site ("Wikipedia to join Web blackout protesting SOPA").
The Signpost asked the head of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, Jay Walsh, what the significance is of acting in concert with other major sites? Will this really produce a politically effective message beyond acting in isolation?
Jay Walsh, the Foundation's director of communications
"The Wikipedia community has chosen January 18th because that date the US House of Representatives had scheduled several committee hearings that day to discuss SOPA and other legislation related to online piracy. Though the hearings have been rescheduled, likely due to the increased public attention around the issue, the threat of the legislation moving forward continues. When many [Internet organisations] and projects align and protest like this there’s clearly a big net effect. There’s no question this makes the story bigger than if one site, say Wikipedia alone, made a protest. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t look like we’re just following in the steps of others.
Our community has had strong views about this from the beginning, and doesn't appear to be viewing activism in terms of how other sites are responding. Conversely, I’d say a lot of those other sites are very much looking to Wikipedia to see how our community is responding."
What are the trigger points, so to speak, for persuading voters to contact the politicians? What do American voters respond to? Is the creation of newsworthiness in the media by the protest just as important as the direct persuasion of voters to lobby the politicians? Are there really two aims?
"As you know the RfC is still in progress [early Tuesday UTC], so we’re speculating and we absolutely don't want to pre-empt that process. But based on what we’re seeing, the focus of the message on the Wikipedia blackout page is likely to be action-oriented, with strong encouragement that the US voters reading the message get in touch with their representatives and voice their displeasure over SOPA and PROTECTIP.
This effort is newsworthy to the US and global press, and it’s very significant because it will expand the story beyond tech and media insiders to a wider public. Up to this point, many people have not heard much about the issue. The two issues go hand in hand and should create a virtuous loop of calls in opposition to the proposed legislation."
Did the Italian Wikipedia’s protest action last year achieve its goal of stopping the passage of the Italian law that would have had significant implications for Internet freedom?
"The WP.it community would be in the best position to speak to that, but it certainly does look like their efforts stopped that law and compelled the Italian Parliament to add amendments to make it less noxious. This gives us some context on the thinking around SOPA of course – I think everyone in the community is aware of the strength of that effort."
We asked what the dangers might be for the project if these two laws pass.
"It’s safe to say that the SOPA project page has a lot of viewpoints listing those dangers. Provided you’re talking about what the dangers to Wikipedia are if SOPA passes, there are still a lot of crazy and bad things in SOPA/PROTECTIP to be concerned with. The Electronic Frontier Foundation runs through the most important of those points here.
Although these points may not seem to be immediately threatening to Wikipedia, they would fundamentally change the structure of the free and open Internet. This is a terrible precedent – it could hurt other sites. It could make finding and sharing information – and growing Wikipedia internationally – very difficult. It could hurt the way that finance works on the web. In short, anything that stops the free flow of information – any massive powers granted to the US government would create an unpredictable situation for any web project. And so much of these bills is just not well-defined: there are many, many grey areas."
Wikipedia celebrates its 11th birthday as Commons breaks another milestone
The 12 millionth file on Commons
15 January is Wikipedia's birthday, and this year marks 11 years since The Free Encyclopedia first went online. 2011 saw the total number of articles pass the 20 million mark (now close to 21), the number of unique visitors 400 million, individual page requests 16 billion per month, and 282 Wikipedia languages currently available. Wikimedians gathered to celebrate so-called Wikipedia Day, including "meet-ups, hack-a-thons, a bicycle rally, a kite festival in India, and a picnic in Caracas."
As the medicine-related articles on the English Wikipedia alone receive 150–200 million page views each month, and the articles are read by medical professionals and the public alike, project leaders believe "that this project will have a significant impact on the availability of good health care information wordwide and that this, in turn, is likely to save many lives and to improve the quality of life of many people globally." Volunteers are needed to improve the content of these medical articles in English, to help simplify them, translate them, and incorporate the translated articles back into other language Wikipedia projects.
Call for Stewards: Preparations for the 2012 stewards elections are underway. Stewards are users with unfettered interface access across all wikis, generally acting in emergencies, dealing with cross-wiki vandalism, implementing community consensus, and acting as administrators and bureaucrats on wikis that lack a significant user base with permission rights. Candidate submissions are open until 28 January, and questions may be asked of candidates until 6 February. Voting, both in confirmation of existing stewards and for candidates, will begin on 8 February.
Wikimania 2012 scholarships open: Applications for travel scholarships to attend Wikimania 2012 are now being accepted. Full and partial scholarships will be offered this year by the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as some chapters. The deadline to apply is February 16, 2012.
Wikimedians to the Games begins: Wikimedians to the Games (W2G) began on 10 January this week. The initiative is "an opportunity for two Australian Wikimedians to go to London and cover the 2012 Summer Paralympics held in London for Commons, Wikipedia, and Wikinews." Participants log points by editing and improving topics related to Australian Paralympics. The current, first round is a qualifier for the second round, to start on 22 April 2012, which will see the top two of four finalists sent to the event.
Global Development midyear report: The Global Development division of the Wikimedia Foundation has published its midyear report for 2011–12, covering activities in mobile and offline development and initiatives in India, Brazil, and the Middle East.
Wikimedia Israel report released: Wikimedia Israel's October–December 2011 report has been released. The report covers a wide range of activities during the last quarter of 2011, including the organization of a general assembly, a variety of GLAM projects, an annual meetup, and a series of wikiphoto hunts.
Product manager for new editor engagement hired: The position of product manager for new editor engagement was filled this week by Fabrice Florin, previously a contractor for the Foundation, who will "take the lead in articulating and refining, in partnership with the community and the engineering team, the requirements for some of our most important features: those which will help us increase the engagement and retention of new contributors to Wikimedia projects." As Erik Möller explains, Florin is also the first Wikimedia employee with an IMDB entry, having directed a 1984 documentary named "Hackers." His full bio can be found here.