January 18 will be a dark day on the Internet. And Zachary Johnson is looking to make it that much darker.
In protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, (there’s been much discussion around the bill; for a worthwhile overview and perspective, go here), online juggernauts Wikipedia and Reddit are opting to black out. For Johnson, a creative developer, working in web, games, and mobile, that wasn’t good enough. In order to add his voice to the protest, and help others do the same, he developed a code that allows any user to go dark.
Well, not entirely dark. Johnson’s code turns users’ cursors into digital flashlights that illuminate an anti-SOPA message and a link to AmericanCensorship.org. Not only does the program serve an important function for anyone wanting to protest, but from a design standpoint, it has the added bonus of looking pretty cool.
"Creating the template was just something I did late Saturday night," the developer says. "The concept for it came from something I did four years ago, just for fun. Then it sat around all this time. When I heard about this blackout day, though, I realized, artistically, that I could just connect the dots and do something that was interactive and beautiful, and still got the message across."
At first Johnson’s creation was really basic--just the blackout effect and a spotlight on the words "Stop SOPA." Johnson sent this prototype to BoingBoing editor Cory Doctorow, though, for guidance. Doctorow was impressed with the concept, and he wrote back suggesting that Johnson add some information and links so readers could find out more about why the website has gone dark, and also learn how to take action themselves.
The next day, Johnson followed Doctorow’s advice and sent it back to him. The novelist and editor put the Stop SOPA code up on BoingBoing that day, and the response was felt instantly. Other sites picked the story up, and soon enough, 40,000 people had visited the developer’s website to find the code in under 48 hours.
Johnson also made sure that the reach of his program would extend even further by posting it to Github, an online destination for sharing open-source coding. "I figured my version wasn’t perfect," he says. "So posting it for an open-source community gives people the chance to add their own tweaks, and now there’s at least 20 versions floating around."
"It may seem strange to protest a decision by doing essentially what the other side wants you to do and just blacking things out," Johnson says, "but it will give people an idea of how much of an impact it could have to put the gate control to the Internet in the hands of just a few people who can decide what gets blocked and what doesn’t."
For any webmasters wishing to darken their sites tomorrow without announcing their reasons why, however, here are some instructions for an alternate method of doing so.