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Microsoft’s Encarta, Rendered Obsolete by Wikipedia, Will Shut Down

Microsoft has announced that it will soon euthanize Encarta, the onetime encyclopedia-of-the-future that has lost much of its luster in the last decade. But the company really didn’t have much choice in the matter: For all intents and purposes, Wikipedia had fatally shivved Encarta some time ago.

And Microsoft admits that. In recent years, “the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed,” the company said in a statement on the shutdown. “People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.” So there’s really only one question left to be answered: Should Encarta be mourned?

Christopher Dawson of ZDNet certainly doesn’t think so. The demise of the encyclopedia, he argues, should simply galvanize educators into teaching the research skills students need to wade through “brutally powerful knowledge sources” like Wikipedia and Google. “The encyclopedia is dead,” Mr. Dawson writes. “Long live critical thinking.”

And as Naomi Alderman points out in The Guardian, the site that felled Encarta did so largely on the merits. Ms. Alderman hails Wikipedia as “a reversal of the much-lamented ‘tragedy of the commons’” — the notion that people ruin common resources by failing to maintain them.

That said, not everyone is quite so sanguine. Mike Jennings of PC Pro offers Encarta a eulogy of sorts, and Matt Goodlett of Paste finds an ominous message in Wikipedia’s ascent: “F*%$! accuracy! So seems to say the world. …”

In the end, though, what’s really telling about Encarta’s demise is the fact that many folks didn’t even realize the encyclopedia still existed. When it made its debut in the early 90s, Encarta was a legitimately disruptive technology. Now, just 15 years or so later, it feels like a relic. —Brock Read

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