What Was Encarta? Look It Up on Wikipedia

Within the last few days Microsoft quietly announced it is killing its Encarta encyclopedia, with the actual date of death October, 2009. What it hinted at, but didn't quite say, was that Wikipedia killed it.

The announcement about Encarta's impending death, which you can find here, says that Encarta Web sites will be killed as of October 31, 2009, except for Encarta Japan, which will bite the dust on December 31, 2009. The Student and Encarta Premium versions will no longer be sold by Microsoft after June 2009.

Here's the explanation Microsoft gave for ending Encarta:

"Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft's goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today’s consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business."

No mention of the word Wikipedia, but it's pretty clear that Microsoft is admitting that's what killed Encarta, when it says, "the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past."

Todd Bishop, in his TechFlash blog, notes that when he interviewed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales five years ago, Wales in essence said Wikipedia would kill Encarta.

"Clearly it's difficult to sell something in a shrink-wrapped box if something far superior is available for free on the Web," he told Bishop five years ago. He also told Bishop that it would become "harder and harder" for Encarta to find people willing to buy it.

He was clearly right. In its time, Encarta was a very good product, an affordable encyclopedia at a time when good encyclopedias were excessively expensive. Its time, though, has passed, and Microsoft made the right move by pulling the plug.

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