Zittrain started Herdict in February — a month before China's block began — to aggregate reports of online inaccessibility and help users detect government censorship on the Web as soon as it happens. Having tracked online censorship since the early 2000s, he wanted to put Web accessibility at the fingertips of those who use it most, rather than a handful of experts.
"The less 'online' class of people generally don't worry about it, until they run into something blocked like the BBC," said Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Boston-based circumvention tool, The Tor Project Inc. "Then they say, 'Hey, what is this? All I want to do is read this one article."'
The site has versions in Arabic and Chinese, and an interactive map with a roaming orange sheep to mark inaccessible websites.
Don't expect censorship to go away, though. At most, Herdict can help give people a better sense of the prevalence of censorship.
"I don't think that a specific monitoring tool will specifically have censorship go away, but we'll just know about it better," said Robert Guerra, project director for the Internet Freedom Program at the Washington-based Freedom House. "It's far more pervasive than people think."