Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Microsoft folds up Encarta

Noam Cohen, Microsoft Encarta Dies After Long Battle With Wikipedia, New York Times, March 30, 2009.  Excerpt:

Microsoft delivered the coup de grâce Monday to its dying Encarta encyclopedia, acknowledging what everyone else realized long ago: it just couldn’t compete with Wikipedia, a free, collaborative project that has become the leading encyclopedia on the Web.

In January, Wikipedia got 97 percent of the visits that Web surfers in the United States made to online encyclopedias, according to the Internet ratings service Hitwise. Encarta was second, with 1.27 percent. Unlike Wikipedia, where volunteer editors quickly update popular entries, Encarta can be embarrassingly outdated. The entry for Joseph R. Biden Jr., for example, identifies him as vice president-elect and a U.S. senator....

[Andrew Lih] said something would be lost in the shuttering of Encarta. “Bill Gates bought Corbis, and Encarta had access to all these images that Wikipedia could never get,” he said. “Right now, that is a big weakness of Wikipedia -– the material has to be free.”

Mathias Schindler, one of the administrators of German Wikipedia, said he had already sent an e-mail to Microsoft asking the company to release the material from Encarta that it doesn’t plan to use anymore.

More on the last point from Rafe Needleman at Webware (incidentally reporting Jimmy Wales is folding up Wikia search),

[On Encarta,] Wales said it's "disappointing to see a center of knowledge going away." His company has been trying to contact Microsoft about making Encarta data available under a free license, he said, so some of it could be incorporated into Wikipedia.

Wales says Wikipedia could, theoretically, absorb all of Encarta. But due to the relatively small size of [Encarta], "the community probably wouldn't find it useful. However, the images might be useful," he said.

Comment.  I have no opinion on the quality of Encarta.  I never used it, and clearly I'm not alone.  But I'm still struck by the traffic figures:  Wikipedia at #1 with 97% of online encyclopedia traffic, and Encarta at #2 with 1.27%.  Is there any other category showing that kind of disparity between #1 and #2?