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Encarta 97: A Retrospective

Article written by Chris [DADHAT]
Published in General-Culture and Gaming at 14:21 on Monday, 24th August 2009

In March this year Microsoft announced that it would drop its entire Encarta encyclopaedia range. CD-ROMs and DVDs were pulled off shelves in June and all associated websites are to be shut down in October.

To be honest I had no idea Encarta still existed in any form. And it doesn't seem like any one else really did either; Wikipedia has a 97% share on online queries to encyclopaedias, with Encarta at just 1.27%. Poor old Encarta. When the Internet started throwing a big knowledge party of its own, Encarta tried to compete with flashing lights and trendy music; ultimately trying to push forward the multimedia advantages of the software. And why shouldn't they? I fucking loved Encarta. Everything about it felt like home. It was cool, sexy, and it had VIDEOS and SOUNDS! There was something comforting about seeing the title screen when you started it up. Like coming home from a long trip; you were welcomed with familiar colours, shapes and sounds that filled you with a warm and fuzzy feeling of comfort. You're safe now, Encarta's here for you.

Mindmaze, non-arguably the greatest educational game ever. It consisted of aimlessly wandering around a castle being forced to answer general knowledge questions FOREVER. Brilliant.

Mindmaze, non-arguably the greatest educational game ever. It consisted of aimlessly wandering around a castle being forced to answer general knowledge questions FOREVER. Brilliant.

Encarta didn't have all of the answers though. Thinking back to my experiences of Encarta over 10 years ago now, I remember the heartbreak you used to get as your keywords threw up absolutely nothing. Oh, Encarta! You funny thing. What now? Books, of course. The Internet was also a possibility, Encarta 97 used to give you hyperlinks to sources on the web. This was about the extent of Microsoft's web integration with the software for a while. They never had a clear vision on how to leverage the web. As internet connections got faster, Encarta became more and more obsolete. Why pay the entrance fee when we can drink more at home for free? Encarta's information was more reliable, in 1989 Microsoft partnered with Funk and Wagnall Encyclopaedias to increase Encarta's knowledgebase, and Bill Gates bought Corbis which owns more than 100 million stock images and a expansive footage library. But Wikipedia understood the importance of a community, and it took Microsoft 4 years to adopt user suggestions into their software.

The Encarta '95 box. Brimming with personality.

The Encarta '95 box. Brimming with personality.

I haven't used Encarta since its 97 edition. A quick visit to the web site is depressing. It lacks any of the confidence that you need from an encyclopedia, it looks so derivative that you can't tell whether it's doing anything any more intelligent than a Google search. Encarta lost its identity. The amazing amount of multimedia and resources Wikipedia could never get (one of the administrators of German Wikipedia, Mathias Schindler, 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) seems to have been chewed up by MSN and spat all over the internet. Why couldn't Encarta have had a big resurgence on new media like the iPhone, Xbox or Zune? Lack of any coherent vision and shitty marketing killed Encarta. I don't think I'll ever find another encyclopaedia that feels like home.

Related Links:
Microsoft Encarta
Tags: Microsoft Encarta, Encyclopaedias, Encarta 95, MindMaze

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