Microsoft is preparing to shut down Encarta, the digital encyclopedia it first launched in 1993 as a direct competitor to old reference standbys like Encyclopedia Britannica. The encyclopedia, which for years was based on optical media and eventually made its way to the web too, grew quickly in the mid to late 90’s as a reference guide that was more convenient than book-based encyclopedias and was available for a tiny fraction of the price. According to its FAQ, Encarta’s web sites will be discontinued on October 31, 2009 (Except for Japan, which has until December 31, 2009). Microsoft will also stop selling the Encarta products by June.
From the FAQ:
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.
Microsoft’s vision is that everyone around the world needs to have access to quality education, and we believe that we can use what we’ve learned and assets we’ve accrued with offerings like Encarta to develop future technology solutions. In doing so, we feel strongly that we are making the right investments that will help make our vision a reality.
In the 2000’s 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 tradional 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.
Microsoft announced in March 2009 that they will cease to sell Microsoft Student and all editions of Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009, citing changes in the way people seek information and in the traditional encyclopedia and reference material market as the key reasons behind the termination. Updates for Encarta will be offered till October 2009. Additionally, MSN Encarta web sites will be discontinued by October 31, 2009, with the exception of Encarta Japan which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Existing MSN Encarta Premium (part of MSN Premium) subscribers will be refunded.