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MSN Encarta

MSN Encarta Surrenders to Wikipedia, But Is Wiki the Way Forward?

April 02, 2009 09:00 AM
by Liz Colville
As traditional publications like Encyclopedia Britannica embrace user-generated content, Microsoft bows out for now, ceasing operations of its 15-year-old encyclopedia.

Wikipedia Captures Majority of Online Encyclopedia Traffic

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MSN Encarta, which comes in the form of software and an online encyclopedia with free and premium subscription options, will shut down its online operations on Oct. 31, 2009 (Dec. 31 in Japan), and will phase out its software by June 2009, The Times of London reports. The 15-year-old Encarta is thought to be passing the torch to the already dominant user-generated, volunteer-edited Wikipedia.

Founded by Jimmy Wales in 2001, Wikipedia grabbed 97 percent of the visits that American Web users made to online encyclopedias in January, according to Hitwise. The Times points out that Wikipedia is updated rapidly. Meanwhile, on MSN Encarta, an article on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not been updated in almost a year.
In an announcement about the decision, Microsoft wrote that “the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed.” The company suggested that it is adapting to these changes by working on other products to replace MSN Encarta.

In January, another Wikipedia competitor, the Encyclopedia Britannica, announced it would start accepting articles from the public in an effort to jump on the user-generated bandwagon.

The news comes as other sponsors of online information databases, such as the Internet Archive and Google, work intensively to come up with better, more reliable and still free portals of knowledge on the Web. Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle’s vision includes a free database of multimedia similar to the Internet Archive’s current format.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Wales announced that Wikia Search, his company’s social search effort, is being shut down due to economic reasons; the announcement came almost simultaneously with Microsoft’s. “This one is too far away," Wales was quoted as saying by CNET. "It was going to take at least another year to two before it's usable by the public, and we can't afford that right now."

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Opinion & Analysis: Is Wiki the way forward?

Recalling MSN Encarta’s heyday, before Google “was even a concept scribbled on napkins over dinner,” the blog TG Daily says the encyclopedia “is one of the most famous and longest-standing interactive knowledge resources ever.” So what happened? Microsoft tried to adapt to the Internet by offering live searches through its search engine, but the increasing prevalence of new sites such as Google, MySpace, Facebook and Flickr meant that “users just didn't care any longer,” TG Daily argues. The blog goes on to assert that the Web is “dumber without Encarta.”

“Leave the encyclopedias behind,” counters Chris Dawson, a parent and school district technology director on his ZDNet Education blog. The demise of MSN Encarta is just further evidence of “the absolute challenge to educators to teach kids real Web-based research skills,” he says. Without services like MSN Encarta, kids will more often “just go to Wikipedia or the first three hits on Google.” But Dawson suggests parents and teachers can step in to reinforce the idea of using the Web to carefully collect information, rather than let an encyclopedia do it.

Although the 240-year-old Encyclopedia Britannica is welcoming articles from the public, which will be edited by paid editors, its president Jorge Cauz remains skeptical of Wikipedia. In The Sydney Morning Herald, Cauz was quoted as saying, "If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia," he said."Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

Reference: Web Guide to Understanding Wikipedia

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