News outlets temporarily enter encyclopedia business as Wikipedia goes dark to protest anti-piracy bills

With Wikipedia blacked out to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) anti-piracy bills in the U.S. Congress, news outlets like the Washington Post, NPR and the Guardian teamed up to use crowdsourcing via Twitter to try to serve as a make-shift encyclopedia, according to the Huffington Post.

Users can use the hashtag #altwiki to ask questions that the news organizations then will try to find answers for, explained the Washington Post, adding that "while we’re not in the Wikipedia business, this is an experimental, one-day Band-Aid to help out readers during the protest of proposed Internet rules."

The Guardian provides a tongue-in-cheek time-line of its adventures answering readers' questions via Twitter using -- gasp -- the printed version of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

NPR set up the Twitter feed @NPRaltwiki for its reference librarians to respond to the public's questions. As Mark Stencel, NPR's managing editor for digital news, was quoted, "We started thinking about what a day without Wikipedia would mean, practically speaking, for a typical person. The #altwiki tag seemed like a fun way to track that."

Meanwhile, Poynter offers a few tips for getting around the Wikipedia blackout, as well as a guide for what journalists should know about SOPA.

Wikipedia was just one of what was speculated as hundreds of websites -- like Reporters Without Borders -- to go dark Wednesday to protest the anti-piracy bills, which critics say amount to censorship of the Internet and an attack on the First Amendment. Google showed solidarity with the SOPA and PIPA protests by redacting its logo and offering a link to an “End Piracy, Not Liberty” page with information about the bills. See screenshots of the homepages Wednesday of various websites protesting the bills.