After several weeks of speculation and debate, the English version of Wikipedia is going to be blacked out this Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its legislative brethren. The massive, open source encyclopedia will join Reddit, Mozilla and others in this week's show of anti-SOPA sentiment, founder Jimmy Wales announced today.

With an estimated 25 million daily visitors, Wikipedia is the largest site to take part in the blackout. Reddit, a wildly popular website with massive traffic, only garners a fraction of the pageviews that Wikipedia gets in a month, and even those page views are typically dominated by a certain subset of the Internet community. Wikipedia is viewed by a much more mainstream audience, a fact certain to propel SOPA further into the consciousness of everyday, non-geek Web users.

Wales made the announcement at a time when the odds of SOPA becoming law have been diminished by recent political developments in Washington. As Wales acknowledged, the version of SOPA that the Web has come to fear and revile is essentially crippled. Key legislators have backed away from it, one of its central provisions was shelved and the Obama administration has denounced the more controversial aspects of the bill and hinted at a possible veto should something resembling SOPA land on his desk.

Even so, its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is alive and well and many SOPA opponents fear that the legislation could return in another form. That may not be likely to happen in the current legislative season, but it's not unthinkable considering the political reach of the big media organizations backing SOPA.

The apparent demise of SOPA as we knew it comes after a remarkable display of concerted opposition among Silicon Valley companies, technology thought leaders and a conglomeration of Web-based communities of which Reddit is only one example. Growing opposition to the proposed law first caused companies to rethink their stance, then politicians.

The bill was already as good as derailed by the time the Obama administration spoke out against it, partly in response to anti-SOPA petitions on the White House website.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia and others are moving forward with Wednesday's blackout, in the hopes of heightening public awareness about the proposed legislation even further. Not only does Wikipedia.org get a ton of direct traffic, but the site's articles often rank quite high in search results so even some of the most casual Web surfers are prone to run into blacked-out, anti-SOPA pages on Wednesday.

That awareness is already being raised, as mainstream news outlets like CNN have begun covering the story. For anybody who happens to miss the news, perhaps they'll notice if a thing or two looks different on the Web Wednesday.