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The end of Encarta

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday March 31, 2009 )

Growing up, I was privileged to have a set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedias thanks to my parents. While the F&W’s weren’t as costly as Brittanica, they still weren’t cheap by any means – my parents had to work hard to provide me with that resource. The volumes also took a up a lot of space, pretty much a full bookshelf by the time the yearly world books were added.

I remember consulting them regularly, but often finding them too US-centric and with outdated information; still they did give me somewhat of an edge over the other kids.

But as personal computing, data CD’s and the Internet took hold, Funk and Wagnalls quickly fell victim. The company tried to bring their product online, but they weren’t fast enough and the publication that had been around since 1912 finally failed in 2001. It’s a little sad to see that even the domain name is now just a PPC landing page.

Some of the information from Funk and Wagnalls wound up in Microsoft’s Encarta digital encyclopedia, which was launched in 1993. I remember being amazed by the depth of information, currency and the comparatively low price of Encarta compared to my F&W’s. Encarta pretty much ruled the roost for quite a while.

However, nothing stays still in the digital word and Encarta has in turn become victim of an even bigger and more dynamic encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. Microsoft says that on October 31 it will turn off all its Encarta web sites everywhere except in Japan, with that service to end on the last day of this year.

Back in the day, school assignments were a real chore – competing for books from the library, trying to piece together snippets of information to form coherent works was a real skill. Nowadays, it’s so much simpler thanks to sources like Wikipedia – and that’s a good thing.

I get a little disappointed by folks dumping on Wikipedia, particularly many snobbish Universities that state it can’t be used as a source, meanwhile they pad out their own courses with irrelevant and sometimes outdated information.

Sure, Wikipedia has its faults, but never before has it been so easy to find an answer to so many questions; questions that as a child or even as a Uni student would have remained a mystery.

Farewell Encarta, long live Wikipedia!


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