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Wikipedia Didn't Kill Brittanica — Encarta Did 288

Posted by timothy
from the and-how-is-encarta-doing? dept.
rudy_wayne writes "The end of Encyclopedia Britannica has been widely reported and its demise has been blamed on Wikipedia. However, this article at Wired points out that the real reason is something entirely different. 'In 1990 Britannica had $650 million in revenue. In 1996, long before Wikipedia existed, it was bankrupt and the entire company was sold for $135 million. What happened in between was Encarta. Even though Encarta didn't make money for Microsoft and Britannica produced its own encyclopedia CDs, Encarta was an inexpensive, multimedia encyclopedia that helped Microsoft sell Windows PCs to families. And once you had a PC in the living room or den where the encyclopedia used to be, it was all over for Mighty Britannica. It's not that Encarta made knowledge cheaper, it's that technology supplanted its role as a purchasable 'edge' for over-anxious parents. They bought junior a new PC instead of a Britannica. When Wikipedia emerged five years later, Britannica was already a weakened giant. It wasn't a free and open encyclopedia that defeated its print edition. It was the personal computer itself.'"
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Wikipedia Didn't Kill Brittanica — Encarta Did

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  • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:54AM (#39366157)
    It's nice to finally see a slashdot article that blames Microsoft for something.
    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:04PM (#39366345)

      And it's nice to see that the "editor" managed to correct one of the misspellings of "Britannica" in the summary.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Funny)

        by just_a_monkey (1004343) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:51PM (#39367273)

        If only there was somewhere one could look up how things are spelled...

        • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

          by conlaw (983784) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:44PM (#39369151)
          Actually, the best bet nowdays seems to be typing a word the way you think it's spelled in as a Google search. They'll generally correct it for you; for instance typing "numonya" brings a prompt for "pneumonia." The old "look it up in the dictionary" doesn't work unless you already have a pretty good idea of how the word is spelled.
          • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

            by multimediavt (965608) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @04:30PM (#39370463)

            Actually, the best bet nowdays seems to be typing a word the way you think it's spelled in as a Google search. They'll generally correct it for you; for instance typing "numonya" brings a prompt for "pneumonia." The old "look it up in the dictionary" doesn't work unless you already have a pretty good idea of how the word is spelled.

            Yep. That's why tagged the article "websearchkilledit". Not specifically Google, as Google wasn't there at the beginning, but web search in general made Britannica obsolete. The web, then the ability to search a repository or index of it. Altavista? Trying to remember the first big web search site...

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:16PM (#39367769) Homepage Journal

      Actually it blames PCs, not MS, (it gives Grolier the same treatment as MS) but it mostly blames Britannica itself for being late to the digital party with a crappy CD. In short, Britannica failed because the folks who ran it ran it incredibly poorly.

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zemran (3101) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:02PM (#39368513) Homepage Journal

      But as usual the summary is completely wrong. They switched many years ago and they are still going strong. The only thing that has changed now is that the printed version now only represents 1% of their revenue so they have decided to drop it. The company is still as strong as ever and has lots more markets in education etc. that it never had before and there is no competition for them yet. Wikipedia is not competition as it is not verified and most reputable universities and research institutes etc. will not accept citations from it, and who even knows where Encarta went.

      • by DalDei (1032670)
        By 10th grade we weren't allowed to cite encyclopedias ... had to have Primary Sources.
      • Re:Finally (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jdgeorge (18767) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:40PM (#39369095)

        No, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. [google.com] is going strong, because it's a diversified publisher that targets the lucrative education market with nearly all of its products.

        There is little evidence that the digital Britannica encyclopedia is selling AT ALL, because Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. is a privately held company that doesn't have to tell you anything about where it's making money.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:57PM (#39369335)

        The company is still as strong as ever and has lots more markets in education etc. that it never had before and there is no competition for them yet. Wikipedia is not competition as it is not verified and most reputable universities and research institutes etc. will not accept citations from it, and who even knows where Encarta went.

        Incorrect.

        Wikipedia NOR Britannica are citable sources. EVER. Nor any other encyclopedia. They may be citable in grade school, but not once you get to university.

        It's always been that way, and it affects all encyclopedias and Wikipedia equally. It does not matter at all if Britannica verified everything.

        Encyclopedias are not primary sources. They never have, and never will, be citable.

        The whole point of an encyclopedia is to gain knowledge in a general sense. If you know little about a subject, an encyclopedia works great because it gives you background information to begin your hunt. Even better, it's got a references section that helps direct you to the primary sources to which you can look up the information and get a deeper understanding. And THOSE sources are citable.

        The same goes for Wikipedia. Ignoring errors and edit wars, Wikipedia will never be a primary source (and they aim not to be, either - no original research). Wikipedia's got an advantage over Britannica in that it has a lot of pop-culture articles and thus is more useful.

        The quickest way to get laughed out of higher education is to cite an encyclopedia. Britannica, Encarta, Wikipedia, it doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter who's an authority figure. When you're doing research, they're excellent starting points because they cover the general background and have the much-needed reference section of every article to launch your research.

  • Uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:55AM (#39366167)

    I still have my Encarta CDs. Does that mean I'm harboring a murderer?

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:56AM (#39366189)
    [citation needed]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:58AM (#39366223)

    It’s easy to see Brittanica going web-only as a story of “Wikipedia wins, because open beats closed,” and start making general statements about the fate of everything only if that’s the lens you use to see every story, in no small part because you have a very short memory.

    LOL, he sure has your number.

    • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:31PM (#39372939) Homepage Journal

      Itâ(TM)s easy to see Brittanica going web-only as a story of âoeWikipedia wins, because open beats closed,â ...

      Yeah, but it does apply to this story. Except it's Encarta that Wikipedia killed rather than Britannica. As the authors point out, Wikipedia couldn't have killed Britannica, because (print) Britannica went bankrupt five years before Wikipedia was born. The current Britannica isn't the same company.

      Encarta was a more subtle case of this phenomenon, though. It really died because it cost money and only ran on one platform. If you already had a Windows box, you might spring for the $100 that Encarta cost, because it was a pretty good product. But once Wikipedia got going, by 2005 or so, Encarta was facing a competitor that was free in both the "free beer" and the "free speech" sense, and accessible from any browser. Wikipedia was rapidly becoming the most comprehensive encyclopedia in the world, it could be used from any kind of computer (and now from our cell phones), and it cost nothing to use over the cost of your computer and your Internet access. Also, if you found an error or important omission, you could fix it.

      How could a private, proprietary package compete with that? Microsoft wasn't about to open Encarta and let just any idiot edit it (and it probably would have been a disaster if they had, considering all their enemies ;-).

      Yes, "open" was only a part of the story. But Wikipedia's openness is what made them the biggest player in the game, since it gave them a million or so (unpaid) contributors. It's also part of what has kept their quality at roughly the same level as the proprietary encyclopedias, since they are inherently subject to vandalism along with editing by dummies. It's been interesting to see them do well enough to match the business world's best error rates despite this.

      It does seem that the inherent accuracy of encyclopedias has a limit, presumably because they're edited by humans. Given this, it's probably no surprise that the one that's biggest, instantly accessible anywhere, and free would turn out to be the winner. But when Wikipedia started, we didn't know that it would match the quality level of the "professionally" produced products.

      (And I suspect that the "instantly accessible everywhere" is the main reason that Wikipedia has done so well. If Britannica or Encarta had had that feature, Wikipedia may have never come into existence. Or maybe it would have; we'll never know, because all its competitors were behind paywalls.)

  • by glaqua (572332) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:59AM (#39366247)

    I remember being at a trade fair of some sort shortly after Encarta came out. I had a copy and immediately saw that multimedia versions would eventually kill the paper version.

    So I asked the Brittanica rep when they would have their electronic version out, and the attitude was literaly "its a passing fad, people we will always want the book version".

    I think that phrase "its a passing fad" should almost qualify as investment advice. take a hard look at the passing fads, and buy in early! or even better, short the company that claims their threat is a passing fad.

    • Hmmm, be careful about selection bias those. Like most "famous last quotes", these "passing fad" quotes will not be remembered if the fad is indeed passing.

      Who would have remembered Bill Gate's 640K quote if he turned out to be right?

      • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:39PM (#39367029) Homepage

        That's not selection bias, that's educated wisdom.

        Anyone in 1996 had to be quite the luddite, to not see where this computer "fad" was headed. I'll even say that if a Britannica rep saw Encarta, and did not immediately shit bricks, that person was infinitely dumber than their own gullible customers.

        For myself, growing up, Britannica was the most vibrant example of informercial-style deceptive marketing. Corny actors, offers for a "free promotional booklet", a big dumb 1-800 number with repeated commands to "Call NOW!", and some bullshit gift for ordering in the next 15 minutes, because the one thing you really want when buying a shelf of useless books is even more useless books to litter your coffee table.

        I really cannot think of any occasion where the two-paragraph overview from a printed encyclopedia ever helped me accomplish anything. If I needed to study something specific, I went to the library and borrowed a few books on the topic. I didn't need to spend $1500 on a bunch of superficial books edited by non-experts, just as I wouldn't spend a penny on Wikipedia today. Encyclopedias are what you read when you don't really care all that much about the subject.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          I really cannot think of any occasion where the two-paragraph overview from a printed encyclopedia ever helped me accomplish anything. If I needed to study something specific, I went to the library and borrowed a few books on the topic.

          I couldn't agree more: the major problem with the idea of a classically edited encyclopedia is that it's mostly useless, at least for schoolwork of any sort, and I don't even mean college. Many wikipedia articles are genuinely useful, with worked out examples of calculations where applicable, instantly available links, etc. I've tried using Britannica as a reference in grades 8 through 12. Not a single time could I find answers to my questions, and it wasn't for lack of trying. It had a lot of facts but no

          • by iluvcapra (782887)

            I couldn't agree more: the major problem with the idea of a classically edited encyclopedia is that it's mostly useless, at least for schoolwork of any sort, and I don't even mean college.

            Encyclopedias of all kinds, wether curated or open, are never primary sources and are never to be used for citation, or any kind of thoroughgoing reference on any subject. If you wanna know something, click the citation link and read the source, just like in the EB you should seek out the bibliographic reference. If ther

            • by tibit (1762298)

              Why would one need such an epistemological model? Is it practical? I thought that the links to related entries in wikipedia articles are more than sufficient in practice.

        • by FirstNoel (113932)

          . Encyclopedias are what you read when you don't really care all that much about the subject.

          Thinking about this...you are correct. If you want real in debt knowledge go to the sources. If you want a basic understanding, but not be inundated in the details Encyclopedias do that.

          I remember grabbing a World-Book Encyclopedia whenever I needed quick bathroom reading. For a pre-teen/teenager it was perfect. I got a lot of real basic info about interesting subjects. But other than for a grade-school writing assignment, they were just dead trees. I think we got the update books up till 1980...so

        • Bull (Score:5, Informative)

          by managerialslime (739286) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @03:08PM (#39369503) Journal

          ... , because the one thing you really want when buying a shelf of useless books is even more useless books to litter your coffee table.

          I really cannot think of any occasion where the two-paragraph overview from a printed encyclopedia ever helped me accomplish anything. If I needed to study something specific, I went to the library and borrowed a few books on the topic. Encyclopedias are what you read when you don't really care all that much about the subject.

          I pity anyone whose knowledge of the pre-web role of encyclopedias is limited to the poster's comment.

          In 1968, my parents acquired a set of Enclopaedia Britannica ( == Yes that is the correct spelling). This was just prior to my experiencing a soccer injury that would confine me to bed for most of the next two years. I spent most of that time reading EB. (Yes, I also went to the library every week.) My time with EB did more to prepare me for college than any other single aspect of my high school education.

          (And I came from a household that housed more than a thousand books and multiple sets of competing encyclopedias as well.)

          Your "two paragraph" assertion is misleading. I still remember reading a biography of Rene Descarte that went on for pages. The article on World War II was even longer. Also, encyclopedias were never meant to be one's only source of information. Just a "jumping off" point in case the reader needed a starting point. This is the same way Wikipedia is used today. Need basic information? Use Wiki. Need more? That is what the iPad, Kindle, Nook, and the library are for.

          Many years later, EB became one of my clients. It was during that experience that I learned that almost every article was written by a college professor likely to be an authority on the subject and proofread by another prior to publication. That many articles were also written by experts in their field (i.e. Albert Einstein authored an article on Physics in one edition) is also overlooked by the poster.

          When my own daughters needed a resource in the early eighties, I did buy the Encarta, Grolier, and much later, the Britannica discs. In the internet age, my sons have no need for any of these.

          But just to rant because one did not sit still, read, and appreciate this wonderful resource for what it was, is more a reflection on the poster and less a reflection on the value of such tools prior to the internet.

          'nuff said.

        • by lavaface (685630)
          I really cannot think of any occasion where the two-paragraph overview from a printed encyclopedia ever helped me accomplish anything.

          I generally agree with what you're saying but one thing I wish more people would realize is that the EB is divided into two sections: the Micropedia and the Macropedia. The Micropedia (actually Micropaedia) is what people generally think of when they think of encyclopedias: relatively short articles on a wide number of subjects. The Macropaedia had much longer articles that

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:09PM (#39366425)

      Damn straight, my Segway stock is going to go through the roof. That and "push media" companies with VRML sites.

    • by netsharc (195805) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:11PM (#39366455)

      Second Life and MySpace says hi!

      Actually, you're still right. A few years ago people were saying these 2 will be the future of the internet. So, "future of the internet" = don't invest! "passing fad!" = invest all the money!

    • by jsepeta (412566)

      invest in pet rocks! and Lady Gaga!

    • by elucido (870205) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:20PM (#39366631)

      I remember being a kid begging my parents to Brittanica only to hear over and over again that they couldn't afford it.

    • He was half right. I, for one, want a complete hardbound encyclopedia set on my bookshelf just because I think it's cool.

      I'm sure I'm not the only one and I'm sure there will always be a demand for this product. The only problem is bringing down the price to something affordable. That may have to wait until an AI can format texts for publishing.
    • I think that phrase "its a passing fad" should almost qualify as investment advice. take a hard look at the passing fads, and buy in early! or even better, short the company that claims their threat is a passing fad.

      Unfortunately, it's not that simply. Hundreds of Billions of dollars have been lost and thousands of companies bankrupted because they pursued "the next big thing" which turned out to be not so big after all.

    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:31PM (#39366867) Homepage

      I had a copy and immediately saw that multimedia versions would eventually kill the paper version.

      Yeah, that's the thing-- it wasn't Encarta per se. Encarta was terrible and useless. What really caused the decline in sales was the *idea* that encyclopedias would eventually be digital. What some people may not remember is that Encyclopedias were very expensive, and so they were considered an investment that would pay off over several decades. It was a source of a wide world of information that you otherwise wouldn't be able to access without going to a library. Once people realized that the information might be available in digital form within the next few years, it no longer made sense to invest in something that was supposed to pay off over decades.

      So it wasn't that Brittanica lost out to Encarta, though it may be that Encarta helped some people realize that the paper encyclopedia was doomed.

    • I think that phrase "its a passing fad" should almost qualify as investment advice. take a hard look at the passing fads, and buy in early! or even better, short the company that claims their threat is a passing fad.

      Brittanica likely suffered from the same internal conflict of interest that contributed to the demise of Polaroid and Kodak. Individuals within the companies may have had the foresight to understand what was about to happen, but encountered two different types of roadblock. The Britannica rep was a good example of the first type.

      The second type though, was the more lethal one -- a management that did understand the threat, but whose primary concern was ensuring that the company did not end up competing wi

  • Meh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by flirno (945854) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @11:59AM (#39366253)

    I doubt this. Encarta wasn't all that useful to me when it could have been. I still went to paper encyclopedias or used search engines. Now wikipedia has replaced both avenues. But Encarta wasn't even on the list. I looked at it a few times and couldn't take ti seriously as a resource.

    • Re:Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by liquidpele (663430) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:04PM (#39366333) Journal
      I used it a lot as a resource in school... the articles were crappy, but it was still a source when you had to have X number of sources.

      Regardless, I think the point is that parents didn't see the need to buy a $3000 encylopedia set when they had a free one on CD already. People still used the paper ones... at the school library though.
      • by Culture20 (968837)
        Does that mean Britanica has cause to sue Microsoft for abuse of Monopoly position?
      • by BagOBones (574735)

        So did I, I liked that if you copy and pasted from it, it would inject a reference automatically.

        Also I can't remember how many times I watched that Hindenburg video or played with the planet orbits demonstrations.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:06PM (#39366363)

      I doubt this. Encarta wasn't all that useful to me when it could have been.

      Depite the headline on TFS, TFA (and even the body of TFS) says the PC displaced the print encyclopedia, not that electronic encyclopedias, or any particular one of them, did. Encarta is mentioned as one factor that helped Microsoft promote the Windows PC in this niche, but the contention isn't that Encarta displaced Britannica as a source of knowledge but that the personal computer displaced the print encyclopedia as a parental purchase.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I buy it.

      Encarta was my first introduction to "how to get information on the computer". It seems really silly now, but "back in the day" when everyone was talking about how computers where this new source of limitless information, "ok, but how do I get at it" was a real question.

      Either way, Brittanica totally had this coming. Their origional attitude when Encarta came out was similar to the (now also Bankrupt) Kodak. It was an almost cocky "that's just a fad, we are a serious publication" thing. Sure eventu

    • Re:Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:08PM (#39366391) Homepage

      Encarta didn't have to be useful. As TFA points out, most people didn't crack open their copies of Encyclopedia Britannica (although it appears from the anecdotes around here that the Slashdot demographic, as is typical, is behaves completely different from the rest of the human population).

      It was a status symbol, an attempt in some way to mitigate the boob tube. Sort of an intellectual comfort blanket.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      My choices were a relatively up to date and easily searchable encarta or a twenty year old encyclopedia set. Guess which one I chose? Encarta got people used to thinking of the computer as an information source (before Internet access) instead of a game station or number cruncher.
    • by residieu (577863)

      Part of the point was that people didn't really need encyclopedias anyway. The few times I actually used them, I was in the library anyway, so I used theirs (which were much more up to date than the 20-30 year old ones we had at home).

      So now you can get a cheap encyclopedia on disc and you don't have to worry about neglecting Junior's education by not having an expensive Encyclopedia filling up a whole shelf. It doesn't matter whether Junior ever uses Encarta at all.

  • not quite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:00PM (#39366261)

    Microsoft first plan was to produce a digital Encyclopedia Brittanica, but the guys at "Encyclopedia Brittanica" declined, therefore they Brittanica killed Birttanica.
    Source: I'm old and I remember that happening.

  • It was Mosaic and other web browsers that sold PCs from 1993 onward, not Encarta.

    I know that's why I bought my first PC (the old 68000 Amiga Mosaic had become too slow for the web), and it's why everyone I knew was buying PCs..... they wanted web access. All the information is available through a search engine.

    • It was Mosaic and other web browsers that sold PCs from 1993 onward, not Encarta.

      From what I remember, in 1996 the vast majority of web pages were just peoples' lists of links to other peoples' web pages (which in themselves were just lists of links...). There were a few islands of usefulness, but a lot of THAT was still clunky web interfaces to Gopher resources or the CIA Worldbook - not the sort of thing the typical consumer was likely to be using.

    • Not everyone had internet acces in 1993.... I didn't get online until 1998.

      Before that (1998), we had two copies of Encarta. I had the first version for Windows 95/3.1 and then Encarta 97. I thought it was cool hearing the sounds a dolphin made on my computer in the first version of Encarta. I got hooked on it and would look through its articles and pictures. I even used it many times for my school work before I learned to use the Internet.

      Encarta was an essential software bundle for the home PC for fa

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Not everyone had internet acces in 1993.... I didn't get online until 1998.

        Couldn't you say the same thing today? Not everyone has internet access in 2012 - only those that pay for it.

        In 1993 Internet access was available to pretty much anyone who wanted it - and there was real competition, a medium sized city might have a dozen or more providers to choose from. It's not like today when a few large players are pretty much your only choice so they get to set the price. Back then, phone companies were complaining that internet use was killing them since people were pinning up their

      • by powerlinekid (442532) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:26PM (#39367943)

        Agreed. We bought a new PC back around '95 which came with Encarta. While we did have internet, I have fond memories of browsing through Encarta just looking through the articles. The one that most stands out in my mind was the moon landing page which had the actual video footage of Armstrong first stepping down. Brittanica couldn't compete with that.

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      All the information is available through a search engine.

      It's only within the last while (seriously, think back) that it's been easy for the average user to get good, mostly reliable information of the net. There was a time when doing so required a lot of voodo. Encarta provided a click n` drool tool that any kid could use to do his school research paper with. I definitely remember seeing it used as a selling point (you'd see a sales person demo a computer "used car" style to some family.. and encarta was on the show and tell list).

    • Re:Disagree. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:27PM (#39366797)
      Not for mom and pop. There was no useful information on the web until later in the 90's, and no advertising of website URLs on TV or print media until at least 1996. Encarta and other information CDs were the bee's knees back then, because a lot of people never bothered with Internet access.
    • by default luser (529332) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:53PM (#39367315) Journal

      In 1993 computers were still disgustingly expensive ($2000+ with a monitor), and that was for a 386 that would choke on anything but text pages (in terms of online rendering). Modems were still incredibly slow and internet providers outside academia were incredibly hard to come by (most people used AOL). In this time period people were mostly buying computers, recognizing that they couldn't do anything fun without upgrading to a CD-ROM and a sound card, and upgrading with a Multimedia kit and playing The Seventh Guest and mucking around on Encarta (included in most upgrade kits).

      You're thinking of the time frame of 1996 onwards, when people actually had more powerful processors to choose from (486 or Pentium-based PCs), faster modems became inexpensive (14.4 and faster), and real consumer internet providers began to surface.

      • Yes, computers in 1993 were expensive, but many of the $2000 ones came with a CD-ROM, soundcard, and a 486SX. My circa 1993 machine came with Grolier's, a friend's Macintosh Performa came with Compton's. It was a standard bundle in program to demonstrate the multimedia features of a new computer at the time.... all under the guise of education of course.
      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>In 1993 computers were still disgustingly expensive ($2000+ with a monitor)

        Commodore Amigas (68020s) were only $500. With monitor it was $700 or you could use a TV.
        28.8 modems were already available in 1994. Or you could get the cheap 14.4 instead.

        Anyway I'm not buying that Encarta killed-off Britannica. How many of those CDs were sold anyway? 500,000? That's not enough to kill off a major franchise like Britannica.

    • Re:Disagree. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:24PM (#39367897) Journal
      You obviously don't remember the '90s very well. Multimedia was the selling point. Remember the MPC1 and MPC2 specs? Every computer came with a CD ROM drive and a sound card. A lot didn't come with a modem. Windows 95 even shipped without a web browser, but you can bet most computers from the time were bundled with Encarta, Thompson or similar. In 1993, you could probably have put most of the contents of the web on a single CD.
  • by ArAgost (853804) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:03PM (#39366309) Homepage
    Maybe if you bought one you would know at least how to spell its name. It's “Britannica”, for your information.
  • by mykepredko (40154) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:05PM (#39366347) Homepage

    I would argue that Encarta, rather than supplanting encylopedia's in people's houses showed how unnecessary they are (which was confirmed by Wikipedia).

    I confess to buying a couple of copies of Encarta, looking through them and seeing that they were okay - not as good as a set of Encyclopedia Britannica but you could toodle around and look up stuff. But, I was always disappointed in Encarta's depth of information as well as the limited pictures and videos (which were why you were supposed to buy the darn thing in the first place). So, it fell into disuse pretty quickly and the kids used the library for their projects (which is arguably where they should have been doing it in the first place). People got out of the habit of looking to an encyclopedia in the home.

    Then along came Wikipedia which really fulfills the promise of a computer based encylopedia with links to images, videos, references you could cite/confirm, etc. which reduced an encyclopedia's usefulness to just being raw materials for quirky leather bound furniture.

    myke

    • The premise is right that computers killed the paper encyclopedia. But isn't google the real culprit, not Encarta?

      Survey your local school - see how many kids use google to research a paper, versus how many use google. Sure, wikipedia may be one of the sources found in a google search - but that is the brilliance of google over any single source of knowledge like wikipedia, Encarta, or Brittanica - that it provides *multiple* sources.
  • by Logger (9214) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:05PM (#39366351) Homepage

    If only Britannica would have patented cataloging a large amount of factual information in an indexed fashion...

    • by gknoy (899301)

      I believe they'd face prior art in the Dewey Decimal system. :)

      • Nope. The first edition of Britannica was in 1768. The Dewey Decimal system wasn't introduced until over 100 years later, in 1876.

    • by rgbrenner (317308)

      Pointless. The patent wouldn't have stopped someone from patenting cataloging a large amount of factual information in an indexed fashion with a computer

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If only Britannica would have patented cataloging a large amount of factual information in an indexed fashion...

      They did. And then they became a patent troll and sued dozens of companies. Any then they lost and never recovered any money.

      http://thepriorart.typepad.com/the_prior_art/2008/11/encyclopaedia-britannica-patent-lawsuit.html

      http://www.brinkshofer.com/news_events/2571-federal-circuit-affirms-summary-judgment-brinks-client-alpine-encyclopaedia

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:05PM (#39366353)

    For the time, both Microsoft Encarta and Microsoft Dinosaurs were pretty cool products. I've still got the CDs somewhere, although they don't do much on my Mac.

    Now the upselling-bait-and-switch tactics Microsoft tried to pull on us Encarta customers was quite another matter, and was one of a long line of things that eventually led to my flight from the Windows platform. But the products themselves were both fun and useful.

  • by LeenusT (579645) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:11PM (#39366451) Homepage
    Hmmm, I've seen this situation somewhere else in the world...
  • Overpriced CDROM (Score:4, Insightful)

    by line-bundle (235965) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:16PM (#39366551) Homepage Journal

    I tried to by Britannica CD in 90s. They were charging almost as much as paper edition. It was only in early 2000s when they realized the error of their ways.

    They could have sewn up the encyclopedia market but their high price was unjustifiable in the light of substantially cheaper offerings such as Encarta.

    Sure, Encarta is not as good as Britannica but it's good enough for most kids. This is the key point: good enough is the enemy of perfect.

    • by ODBOL (197239) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:13PM (#39367705) Homepage

      I was acquainted with some people at Britannica in the 80s and 90s, and others in publishing (not well enough acquainted to be a leak, just to form an opinion that might have value). It seemed to me that Britannica was stuck on being the encyclopedia that everyone wished they could afford, rather than the encyclopedia that everyone used. Similar things happened in other domains where the effective price point changed suddenly. You go from being the dominant choice in a small but expensive market to being almost nobody's choice in a much larger and much cheaper market.

      I think that it's the same phenomenon that killed Apollo. They had the best (pretty much only) desktop research computer workstation, only affordable by very well funded labs. SUN Microsystems offered a much cheaper, inferior box, running a UNIX that was not yet as well engineered as the Apollo proprietary system. But the new, cheaper box, and the preponderance of UNIX on research minicomputers, provided a UNIX solution for almost everybody. Soon, even those who could afford Apollo found it more effective to buy lots of UNIX instead of a little bit of Apollo. I remember an almost tearful Apollo engineer, toward the end, promising that they were finally going to provide UNIX and cut their price. It was too late.

  • Encyclopedia Brittanica is not gone, just the PRINT version. They do have digital offerings.

  • I bought the software version of Britannica about 10 years back and the interface was terrible (relied on IE3 plugins IIRC).

    If they would have produced a really good software package I think they would have had more adoption of it.

    From reviews of the current version, they are still facing software problems (including registering the software so you can access updates, etc.).

  • According to wikipedia, [wikipedia.org] Compton's was the first multimedia CD-ROM encyclopedia. I think we had a copy of it, too.
  • Even though my family owned a full set of Encyclopedia Brittanica and Comptons, I don't feel too bad for them. EB later turned out to be a Patent Troll. I used to work for one of the Defendants in their bizzare lawsuits on GPS manufacturers. http://thepriorart.typepad.com/the_prior_art/2008/11/encyclopaedia-britannica-patent-lawsuit.html [typepad.com] Apparently, if you search a CD you are stealing their IP or something.
  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:45PM (#39367149)

    But it didn't even have to be Encarta or any electronic encyclopedia that did it.

    The market for encyclopedias at that time was probably almost exactly the same market for PCs, middle-class families willing to make a large one-time expenditure to help with their kids future (or their own).

    The PC was new and held the same promise that it would inform and educate your kids so they could grow up to be smarter and more successful. The fact that something like Encarta was available for it was simply icing on the cake, but people would probably have chosen the cake anyway.

    The Encyclopedia was old-and-busted and the PC was teh-new-hotness and their customers could only afford one or the other. Sure, rich people could buy both, but that wasn't how EB made their money. They sold "the larger world and knowledge and the future" to greater middle-class america, and the computer was those things made incarnate and so I suspect everyone who had a nagging feeling that maybe an Encyclopedia would be something they should buy replaced it with a nagging feeling that they really ought to buy a computer, and the rest is as they say, history.

    G.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:48PM (#39367205)
    I think most of information in the summary can also be found here: :-)
    - Encarta [wikipedia.org]
    - Encyclopædia Britannica [wikipedia.org]
  • by djl4570 (801529) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:52PM (#39367287) Journal
    Find some old encyclopedias, A set from each of the following years: 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960 and so on
    Look up the following in each set:
    Israel
    Communist
    Transistor
    Ku Klux Klan
    Nazi
    Steel
    • 1946 Britannica (Score:5, Informative)

      by ODBOL (197239) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:52PM (#39368331) Homepage

      Which I grabbed opportunistically at a library sale.

      It calls itself "A New Survey of Universal Knowledge," and the founding date of 1768 is easier to find than the revision date.

      Israel, quoted in entirety: "ISRAEL, the national designation of the Jews. The Hebrew name means "God strives" or "rules" (see Gen. xxxii. 28; and the allusion in Hosea xii. 4). It was borne by their ancestor, Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes. For some centuries the term was applied to the northern kingdom, as distinct from Judah, although the feeling of national unity extended it so as to include both."

      Communist: no entry. There is an entry of 2+ pages on "COMMUNISM, a term often loosely used to denote different systems of social organization aiming at common property of the means of production, or at an equal distribution of weath and income, or at both. ..." The bulk of the article refers to the Russian revolution and subsequent communist government. It is fairly free with the author's negative opinion of Russian communism.

      Ku Klux Klan: about 1 page. "KU KLUX KLAN. There have been two distinct organizations of this name in American history. The first Ku Klux Klan was an outgrowth of the tense feeling in the South during the reconstruction period succeeding the Civil War; the second was organized during the World War and attained is greatest strength in the period of social and economic readjustment which followed the restoration of peace. ..." I find this article more objective in tone than the one on communism. It refers to the "scalawags" and "carpet baggers," and appears to accept the view of an over-reaching reconstruction, and refers to the first Klan as "a more or less successful revolution against the reconstruction and an overthrow of the governments based on negro suffrage or 'Carpetbag' government."

      Nazi: about 1/3 page. "NAZI, a popular abbreviation for a member of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workingmen's party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, commmonly designated by its initials, NSDAP). ..." More objective in tone than the article on Communism, similar in tone to the one on Ku Klux Klan. I can't resist the last sentence: "Today, just as Christians draw their faith from the Bible and the words of Jesus, so Nazis find the expression of their faith and beliefs in Hitler's book,My Battle (Mein Kampf), and in his speeches and decrees."

      Steel: only a reference to subsections. "STEEL: see Iron and Steel; Wire Rope; Bessemer Steel; Structural Engineering; Open Hearth Steel; High Speed Steel; Manganese Steel; Molybdenum Steel; Mushet Steel; Nickel Steel; Nickel Chromium Steel; Tool Steel; Tungsten Steel; Vanadium Steel; Nitrogen Hardening; Stainless Steel; Steels, Alloy; Alloys; Pressed Metal; Sheets, Iron and Steel; and other specific headings." "STEELS, ALLOY" covers more than 3 pages.

      Transistor: no entry. I really checked, just to be sure. One should always confirm the obvious, since the surprise value of a contradiction would be so great. The enclopedia goes from "TRANSFORMER" (the electrical kind) directly to "TRANSIT CIRCLE or MERIDIAN CIRCLE." (Notice that I quoted the previous and following entries sorta like a DNS response for a nonexistent entry.)

  • Selling computers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spudnic (32107) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:22PM (#39367873)

    This article is very true. At the time Encarta came out I was working for a company that sold PCs. We were located in an area where there were many affluent African American families. Not being raciest by any means, but typically all we had to do was bring up the article on Martin Luther King and start the "dream" speech video and they just had to have that for their kids. Encarta sold the computer.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @03:00PM (#39369387)

    Regardless of what the founder believes, Wikipedia should have monetized the website with the "subtle" use of advertising which would have generated billions in revenue over the past decade.

    Wikipedia could have then bought Brittanica/Encarta and re purposed the authors and developers to write decent articles, perform fact finding research, and moderate articles to help improve the site. It would have been win-win for both: Brittanica would have entered a new era of real time information and Wikipedia would have gained valuable resources to improve content.

    Instead, Brittanica is now bankrupt and the founder of Wikipedia begs for change yearly to run his website.

    I don't find Wikipedia particularly good. It lacks rich content and interactivity, is woefully poor on facts and most articles are purely subjective. Its a glorified blog, period. The website is run on a dollar store budget and lacks any real innovation and the website has been stagnant for a decade.

    Bottom line is, someone had a good idea 10 years ago and has done nothing since to expand, improve, or re-invigorate that idea.

    I don't care for what moral purpose the founder of Wikipedia chose not to monetize Wikipedia; Google never charged people a dime and provided what today would be considered essential services to the Internet. So why the hell couldn't Wikipedia? Even if the founder gave all his money away (and honestly, isn't giving millions to charity BETTER then begging for change?), just keep enough money to run your website and re-invest back in evolving and innovating.

    When I see those stupid beg "ads" and long diatribes about what wonderful service Wikipedia provides to the world it is just a reminder to all that an idiot with morals is still an idiot.

    I think if you look up "clown" in Wikipedia, the founder's face should probably be shown. He killed the competition full of rich, "factful" content in place of a dollar store product that won't evolve because of cheap and lazy development and a founder that has tunnel vision. He is a one hit wonder that has taken far to much credit and not given anything back.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:20AM (#39374631) Homepage Journal

    I got Encarta (maybe it was a lite version) bundled with my first laptop, that'd have been about 1996.

    I think I still have the CD somewhere. I'll dig it out and see how many planets it thinks there are.

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