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Microsoft Encarta: A Casualty of the Web

Microsoft EncartaOnce the bedrock of Microsoft’s home product offerings, the Encarta encyclopedia has been buried by the Web. The company cites changes in how people seek and consume information online as the impetus behind its decision to pull the plug on the venerable research work, which it launched in CD-ROM form back in 1993.

Microsoft announced today that Encarta software products will be discontinued by June, and that MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide would be shuttered on Halloween–with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will close at the end of the year.

A FAQ on Microsoft’s Web site reads: “(T)he category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

While its decision to discontinue out will no doubt help Microsoft tighten its belt, it is a sad occurrence. After all, there is a reason why college professors accept research cited from Encarta and not Wikipedia: one is trustworthy, and the other is not entirely valid.

As comedian Stephen Colbert hilariously pointed out, it’s possible for anyone to vandalize Wikipedia. Colbert caused chaos on Wikipedia by urging his viewers to edit the Wikipedia entry on elephants, and modified entries about himself and George Washington on air.

I lament the loss of Encarta, and encourage Microsoft to release its contents into the public domain or via a Creative Commons license so it doesn’t disappear, period. (Unless licensing agreements prevent it–Encarta incorporates content from several defunct dead-tree encyclopedia.) There need to be validated sources of the truth in a world beleaguered by spin and distraction.


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