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Going dark means crazy day for anti-SOPA site owners

Just because publications like Reddit, BoingBoing, and PostSecret blacked out their Web sites today, doesn't mean the people who run them got to sit back and relax. Quite the opposite, actually.

Across the Internet, sites like Reddit went dark today. But that just meant busier than usual days for the people running them. Screenshot by CNET

With sites like Reddit, BoingBoing, PostSecret, and I Can Has Cheezburger blacked out today in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, you might think this would be a peaceful, relaxed Wednesday for the people who run them. You'd be wrong.

All across the Internet, sites like those and many others stood up to register their opposition to SOPA and PIPA. But for some of those who have gotten the most attention for their activism, today has actually been crazier than usual, despite not having to constantly update their publications all day.

BoingBoing editor Mark Frauenfelder Macmillan

"Today is going to be busier than usual," BoingBoing editor Mark Frauenfelder told CNET. "I have a lot of requests from the media to do interviews, so that'll take up a good portion of my day. I'm also conducting a podcast for 'Make' magazine, preparing for a BoingBoing podcast tomorrow, and scheduling some posts to appear on BoingBoing later in the week. [And] if I have any extra time, I'll use it to whittle down my e-mail inbox."

Handling the flood of media requests seems to be a common thread among those who went public with their blackout plans. And that makes sense given the intense interest in both the tech and mainstream press in the protests against the two pieces of legislation. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

"I have spent pretty much every hour since I woke up either interviewing on TV, radio, or the Internet," said Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit. "or getting to interview locations, so I haven't done much of anything else."

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian Reddit

However, Ohanian did have the opportunity to spend part of his day speaking at an anti-SOPA and PIPA meetup in New York, he said, where more than 1,000 Internet innovators came to have their voices heard about the legislation. Ohanian said that the sheer number of people who showed up for the meetup belied one of the chief misconceptions about SOPA and PIPA--that the battle over the bills is strictly between Hollywood (the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are strongly in support) and Silicon Valley (tech giants like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Zynga, Twitter, and others like Wikipedia are strongly in opposition).

And while Ohanian certainly talked to his share of tech news sites about Reddit's blackout, he said that he also spoke with a number of mainstream publications, and the balance between the two demonstrated to him that the struggle over SOPA and PIPA "has transcended [being] a tech issue [and has] become an American issue."

Added Ohanian, "It's a glaring symptom of a much bigger problem, that is lobbying dollars controlling Washington."

Customer service
At the Cheezburger Network, home to meme factories like I Can Has Cheezburger and the Fail Blog, putting partial anti-legislation blocks against access has not gone over all that well with every user, said Ben Huh, the network's CEO.

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

When CNET spoke with Huh this morning, he said that he had spent much of his day "handling customer service calls [since] some people are not happy about the" roadblocks that had been put in place in front of the network's many Web sites.

Those roadblocks are easily overcome, and anyone wanting to read the sites could do so with just one click of a button at the bottom of a pop-up window with information about opposing the legislation. "I was surprised by that," Huh said, "because it's relatively simple to bypass. It's not like we made them jump through hoops."

Still, Huh's day hasn't been all that different than normal since much of what he usually spends his time doing revolves around projects that take weeks of development and design. But because of the intense amount of activity surrounding the Cheezburger Network's anti-legislation activism, today he did have added responsibilities. "It's when we have storms of activity like this," he said, "that I have to end up scheduling my day."

PostSecret's Frank Warren goes through secrets at his dining room table. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

"Common sense of awareness"
Another site that's blacked out today is Frank Warren's popular PostSecret. Though the bulk of the work that Warren does as he prepares his weekly posting of people's secrets is either spread out throughout the week or concentrated on Saturdays, Warren did say that today stood out because of the national anti-legislation action.

"It's been exciting to surf around online," Warren said, "and see all the virtual colleagues [expressing] a common sense of awareness. We have these strong political voices online when we choose to act together."

Warren said that he'd recently had back surgery and today was his first chance to go outside since going under the knife. The freedom to do that wasn't a result of PostSecret being blacked out, however. But, having the site go dark did affect one thing. "I usually get more and different kinds of e-mails" than he did today, Warren said, "so [the blackout] is affecting what people are expecting when they go to the Web site. Hopefully, we're raising awareness."