April 1, 2009

Wikipedia Puts Another Competitor Out of Business

The first non-print reference source I ever owned was Encarta, Microsoft’s digital encyclopedia, launched in 1993 as a direct competitor to print powerhouses like Encyclopedia Britannica.

When I first purchased Encarta, it was a CD. It later moved to the web. The encyclopedia grew quickly in its first few years, as it offered images, sound, and internal links at a fraction of the cost of a multi-volume print encyclopedia.

Now, Microsoft has announced that it will discontinue Encarta on October 31.

According to TechCrunch:
“In the 2000s Encarta’s popularity died out, largely due to the incredible growth of Wikipedia, the free web-based encyclopedia. Wikipedia is updated by a community of users from around the world, and is far more efficient than traditional encyclopedias and their online counterparts, which are edited in-house. In 2005 Encarta tried to take the middle ground by allowing users to submit suggestions for article updates, but these were not integrated into articles until they had been approved by Encarta editors.

For a full history of Encarta, be sure to check out its comprehensive Wikipedia entry, which has already been updated to reflect Encarta’s shutdown. Encarta’s entry on itself doesn’t mention anything about its demise, and actually seems to have less information than the Wikipedia article.”

Encarta's failed strategy of "opening" its pages to users to submit suggestions for articles reminds me of Britannica's recent attempt to become more responsive to its users, in order to compete with Wikipedia.

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