This Wednesday, Jan. 18, some websites will go dark to protest two bills designed to curb Internet piracy. Critics say Stop Internet Piracy (SOPA), sponsored by the House, and the Senate’s version, Protect Intellectual Property (PIPA), go too far and could close legitimate sites. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of freewheeling discussion site Reddit and a vocal critic of the two bills, has called for an Internet blackout on Wednesday. Wikipedia has confirmed it will participate along with other smaller sites. The protest had been scheduled to coincide with a Congressional hearing – now delayed - in which Internet entrepreneurs, including Ohanian, and technology experts would have testified. While the limited blackout won’t shut down the Internet, it raises the issue of being prepared to cope if one of your go-to sites goes down. There are places other than Starbucks that serve coffee, and there are alternatives to the big sites millions have come to rely on. Wikipedia The reference site is accessed more than 10 million times per hour, according to Wikipedia’s own statistics. When the popular information site goes black for 24 hours (beginning at midnight eastern time), you may have to use more than one alternative to find what you’re looking for. The closest all-in-one source is the online Encyclopedia Britannica. A two-week free trial with full access to its expert-authored content is available, which would more than cover the blackout period. Just don’t forget to cancel if you decide not to subscribe for $70 a year. Free wiki-alternatives include:
- Citizendium is written by contributors (called "citizens") and overseen by experts, such as tenured professors and career professionals. Unlike Wikipedia, citizens must work under their real names and adhere to a 55-point charter overseen by a “constabulary” that governs community behavior such as banning the use of objectionable language. Currently, Citizendium's 16,000 articles cover a quirky range of topics, from the Caterpillar Club to the Great Society.
- Scholarpedia consists of articles written and reviewed by professors and researchers. It is more reliable than Wikipedia, but far narrower in scope. This is the place to go for help with differential equations and fluid dynamics, but offers a void when it comes to the capital of the Congo.
- Everything2 hosts a smaller collection of user submitted factual articles like Wikipedia, along with fiction and poetry. Here, authors are called "noders" and the articles are nodes. Each node is hyperlinked to others, encouraging users to follow the paths of previous readers. Nodes can only be edited by their noders, which results in chains of articles on the same topic as one author corrects another.
The sites we list below aren't planning to go black. But if any of them were to, you could find some interesting substitutes to carry on. Facebook A world without Facebook could leave millions feeling isolated. The key to keeping your connections is cultivating a backup network.
- Start building circles on alternative social network Google+. Send invites to your contacts with their email addresses. Even if they don’t join the network, your contacts will still receive your Google+ posts via email. Chat and real-time video conferencing groups — called Hangouts — are also available within Google+.
- Twitter could also be a backup. Like Facebook users, Twitter members must follow one another to send messages. But once the people you follow, decide to "follow back," you can exchange private messages. Further, you can designate followers as mobile contacts, so that their tweets are sent as text messages to your phone, in addition to using the Twitter mobile app that would include the entire Twitter stream.
- Pinterest has taken the Internet by storm since its launch in 2009. Pinterest became one of the Web's top 10 social networks, according to tracking firm Hitwise. Think of Pinterest as an infinite bulletin board where a community of millions share mostly photos of their favorite things from across the Web. In Pinterest language, a pin is a photo. Pins can be uploaded from your computer or linked to from a website. Pins can be repinned, similar to a retweet on Twitter. Pinterest is still invitation-only, but invites seem to be granted within a day or two.
PayPal Naturally, online shoppers have a variety of alternatives such as credit cards to pay for goods. And now there are several person-to-person payment systems that link to a user’s bank account.
- Amazon Payments let members send money to an email address or a phone number. Like PayPal, customers must set up an Amazon Payments account. Like PayPal, Amazon does not charge a fee for sending money between individuals.
- American Express Serve works in a similar way. Serve customers link their account to their bank or a credit card. Users can transfer money and shop online. Fees are only charged if the Serve account is tied to a credit card.
- PopMoney is offered through 200 participating financial institutions and works like PayPal, Amazon and Serve. With each of these services, users should be aware that it can take up to 5 days for funds to clear.
Google The site accounts for more than 65 percent of U.S. searches. Its loss would leave a gaping hole that its rivals would vie to fill.
- Microsoft would welcome Google fans to “Search Plus Your World” with personalized results culled from its social networking site Google+, Bing integrates social information from Facebook and real-time results from Twitter. Facebook “likes” are shown below search result listings, while Twitter posts are searchable from Bing’s mini-Twitter search engine.
- If your search involves numbers of any kind, try Wolfram Alpha Unlike a semantic or word-based search engine such as Google that provides text links, Wolfram Alpha calculates answers. For instance, it can calculate prices for soybeans futures and name the Oscar-winning actress in 1987. Wolfram Alpha is also available as an app for iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android devices and the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader.
- Another question-and-answer engine, Quora, was created by two former Facebook employees. Like Wikipedia, anyone can answer questions, but Quora contributors must use their real names. Users vote answers “up” and “down” and can link Quora to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Searching by topic results in a list of answers that Quora has ordered using its own algorithm designed to place the best at the top.
Will you survive Wednesday’s blackout, or others that might follow? Undoubtedly, yes. “Embrace it,” David Borgenicht, author of the "Worst Case Scenario Handbook" series, told TechNewsDaily. “It won’t last long.”