Friday, January 20, 2012

How to access Wikipedia during the SOPA blackout

The Wikipedia protest against US anti-piracy laws is in full swing, with the site blacked out until 5 am GMT on 19 January. But while millions are realising they might have to reach for those dusty Encarta DVDs, those in the know can still access the web's favourite encyclopaedia. Here are our top five ways to get your Wiki fix.
While those visiting Wikipedia on their desktop or laptop will see a black page (pictured above), mobile users can access the site as normal. That means you can also view the mobile site on your regular PC - just point your browser at http://m.wikipedia.org/ for full access, albeit in shrunk-down form. Wikipedia says this was done intentionally, to allow access "during an emergency".
A Wikipedia app for your phone is normally an optional extra for those who don't like using the mobile site. But apps for the Apple or Android smartphones and tablets also avoid the blackout, since they should work as normal. Some apps even download Wikipedia content to read offline, which makes them immune to any future downtime.
Disable JavaScript
If you visit Wikipedia on a slow connection during the blackout, you might catch a glimpse of the regular page before it switches to protest page - that's because Wikipedia's developers have used JavaScript to block the page when it finishes loading. Disable JavaScript in your browserand you can use the site as normal, though other websites might stop working too.
Search Google's cache
Google keeps its own copy of most of the web, including Wikipedia, in a cache. That means you can read Google's version of a Wikipedia page, although it may be slightly out of date. 
To find it, start your Google search with site:en.wikipedia.org, then hover over the desired result. Click the arrow that appears on the right, then click "Cached" and you'll be taken to a stored version of the relevant Wikipedia page. Here's a cached version of the Wikipedia home page, if you're wondering what it looks like.
Learn a second language - or think simply
Foreign versions of Wikipedia aren't taking part in the protest, so you could try one of thehundreds of alternatives if you are able to read another language. Another option is the Simple English Wikipedia, a version of the encyclopaedia that uses only basic English words to make it more accessible. Your experience will be limited, though, because the Simple English site only has around 75,000 articles versus the main site's 3.8 million.
Protest over?
This many ways to get around the blackout might make the protest seem futile, but one important function remains offline no matter what you do: editing, the ability for anyone to contribute that made Wikipedia what it is today. As the Wikipedia FAQ explains, the goal isn't a comprehensive blackout, but rather "a historic, measured, temporary action in protest against specific legislation which threatens the free and open Internet and, by extension, Wikipedia."

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