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Wikipedia Didn't Kill Brittanica — Encarta Did

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the and-how-is-encarta-doing? dept.

Media 288

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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Finally (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366157)

It's nice to finally see a slashdot article that blames Microsoft for something.

Re:Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366269)

...I miss the Bill Gates of Borg icon.

/. was never good... (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366549)

...I miss the Bill Gates of Borg icon.

You were just bitching that they should get rid of that logo two weeks ago.

Re:Finally (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366575)

They should have switched to Borg Balmer when he took over as CEO

I mean, he's bald like Picard, and he's the second (Next Generation) CEO, and the image probably would have stuck. /. missed a wonderful opportunity

Re:Finally (0)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367423)

Bastard bought himself out of this by spending billions and charity and starting a movement among billionairs to get rid of their billions while they are alive.

Re:Finally (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366345)

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

Re:Finally (5, Funny)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367273)

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

Uh oh (5, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366167)

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

Re:Uh oh (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366335)

No, it means that you should clean up your room. Or maybe try to sign up for a stint on horders [aetv.com] .

Encarta killed Brittanica (5, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366189)

[citation needed]

Re:Encarta killed Brittanica (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366329)

[citation given]

You now how three points against your license.

Re:Encarta killed Brittanica (5, Funny)

Megahard (1053072) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366365)

[citation needed]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encarta [wikipedia.org]

Re:Encarta killed Brittanica (1)

SiliconSeraph (996818) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366837)

I wish I had a point available to mod you up as Funny. Or maybe Ironic if it were an option.

Re:Encarta killed Brittanica (4, Funny)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367119)

Nice burn on the /. types (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

And brittanica did not see the threat (4, Insightful)

glaqua (572332) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366383)

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?

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (0)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366739)

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

Except that he never actually said that. Once again people are "remembering" something that never actually happened.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366847)

We've always been at war with Eastasia

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366831)

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

People remember the "quote" because it was a correct description -- the PC ecosystem was stuck with DOS and the 1MB boundary for many years while things like OS/2 floundered. Life went on.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (5, Interesting)

billcopc (196330) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367029)

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.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (2)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367573)

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 nothing specific enough to be useful in the homework problems and assignments that I had. I remember that I mostly tried to use it for mathematics, geography and biology. In mathematics it presented facts that were useless in isolation, even if true -- it could have served as a reference for a career mathematician perhaps, but nothing more. In biology, it provided vastly insufficient detail, it seemed -- I mean, come on, stuff edited by experts in the field (or so they claimed) and it was less detailed that we had learned in damn high school. In geography it provided stuff that was maybe useful for filling in crosswords or for a trivia contest, but, again, utterly useless for schoolwork. Whatever maps were presented were missing out on some pretty basic things (important river tributaries, for one).

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (2)

FirstNoel (113932) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367683)

. 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 talk about outdated info.

Encarta was like a breath of fresh air. except you couldn't lug your PC into the restroom to read it.

Now...hell, smartphone+wikipedia and I'm set for life.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366425)

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

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366443)

This was my investment philosophy, until dcc cuecat, flooz, alladvantage, etc. taught me that, more often than not, "passing fads" really are "passing fads".

But everyone should jump on bitcoin, that should pay off. *smirk*

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366757)

Nobody ever jumped on the ::cue::cat bandwagon.
Slashdotters took great joy in maligning them for their half-baked business model and re-purposing the free bar-code scanners they so generously provided.
Their audio cue technology seemed interesting.

The tech bubble was a lot more entertaining than the housing bubble.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (3, Insightful)

netsharc (195805) | more than 2 years ago | (#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!

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367091)

Yup. I told everybody not to invest in that fly-by-night Google: dozens search engines would soon be all over the place. And Apple was a fad for a few arty types who were afraid of real computers.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

jsepeta (412566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366559)

invest in pet rocks! and Lady Gaga!

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (2)

residieu (577863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366877)

or buy my Lady Gaga brand pet rocks

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367035)

I like your moxie, kid! You'll go far in this biz!

It's price is what killed it. (3, Insightful)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366631)

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

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (2)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366679)

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.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366787)

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.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (5, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366867)

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.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367681)

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.

Which seems rather like an inherent flaw in the whole concept of a printed encyclopaedia. By their very nature, facts change. A volume bought in 1990, for example, would have some very quaint geopolitical information about Eastern Europe and Asia. That info would have been desperately out of date within just a couple of years. It would still list Pluto as a planet, still have African Elephants as a single species (the current consensus is that there are two), there would be no info on Dolly the Sheep, and (if it were from the first half of 1990) there would be not a mention of the Human Genome Project.

When you can have an online resource which can be updated almost in real-time (Wikipedia, or Britannica's own online edition), the books look like a rather hopeless proposition.

Maybe they did see it? (2)

Guppy (12314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367265)

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 with itself. By the time they were forced by external forces, it was already too late.

Re:And brittanica did not see the threat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39367623)

Then my friend, I have a pet rock I would like to sell you!

Meh. (4, Insightful)

flirno (945854) | more than 2 years ago | (#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. (4, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366333)

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.

Re:Meh. (2)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366533)

Does that mean Britanica has cause to sue Microsoft for abuse of Monopoly position?

Re:Meh. (1)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366921)

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.

Re:Meh. (1)

mathletics (1033070) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366341)

On the other hand, I was one of these "juniors" who received a new machine with Encarta already installed. I used it all the time.

Misleading headline on summary (5, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Misleading headline on summary (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367379)

From TFS:

Encarta was an inexpensive, multimedia encyclopedia that helped Microsoft sell Windows PCs to families. I don't know anybody who bought a computer in that era who was enticed into it, even partially, by the prospect of getting Encarta. I did buy a computer in the 90's with Encarta on it, and I found it less than useless. (Anecdotal, I know, but to continue the anecdote, knew a lot of families with kids at the time, including mine, and many that were very invested in their kids' educations.)

Re:Misleading headline on summary (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367391)

crap, mistyped "</"

Re:Meh. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366389)

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 eventually they finally got it (way too late of course) .. but some times dinosaurs really can't change.. they just have to die and something has to spring from their ashes.

Re:Meh. (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367153)

Given the patent portfolios of some of those dinosaurs, it's often more like sometimes they just have to die so someone else can wreck the whole world by burning their remains....

Re:Meh. (2)

AlecC (512609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367203)

Which is unjust to Kodak. They definitely saw it coming, and tried to adapt: they produced the first digital cameras, and for a very sort time were the leading producer of them. But, to pick up your metaphor, they were a dinosaur that couldn't dodge: they simply did not have the culture to innovate. Britannica, by contrast were not so much dinosaurs as moles - they couldn't see the flood coming.

Re:Meh. (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366391)

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.

Novelties are fads. (1)

Spiked_Three (626260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367489)

Britannica (however its spelled) was also somewhat of a novelty. My parents bought a set. And I looked at it a lot because it was there. Much the same way early TV was also incredibly attracting. I would watch every TV science show on, and if nothing was on, read the big books on just about any science article.

I will agree with a few points above, I don't think Encarta was soley responsible, but it was the PC in general, or more specifically, time. TV is no longer a novelty, britannica is no longer a novelty, PCs are no longer a novelty, pretty soon tablets will not be a novelty.

What's the money maker? what will be the next FAD that obsoletes everything else?

With a bit of inside humor, I'm guessing it's GIT.

Re:Meh. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366647)

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.

Re:Meh. (1)

residieu (577863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366955)

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.

Re:Meh. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367545)

Internet Explorer wasn't all that useful but killed Netscape because "it was there" and for no other reason. Things don't have to be useful to be used. If anything, being useful adds to expense but not to profit (see story on why users will only pay 65c for security) so being useless is actually the best way to win in the marketplace.

not quite (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:not quite (3, Informative)

787style (816008) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366371)

Source: I'm old and I remember that happening.

Supplemented by the fact the article specifically mentions that fact. :-)

Re:not quite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366811)

If only that happened to other industries.
The weaker ones dying out and adapting to the internet and computers, instead of trying to be backwards and wasting vast amounts of resources that would be better suited to other things.
These idiots in control don't realize just how much money there IS on the internet through customers. They are simply moronic, which pushes more and more people to piracy due to moronic security decisions instead of using all the money saved from distributing physical crap around the world to invest in a solid digital network that allows you access to your files around the world, free ability to copy it to whatever devices you own, etc.
Cheaper prices would also be possible and still gain pretty much the same, if not more, profit, simply due to numbers of sales alone.

Nobody likes shops anymore. They are slowly being replaced by online stores, and even online stores that have various warehouses in the cases of physical goods (Dell)

For those who wish to have a physical copy? You can still sell that with the remaining printing fab since a considerable number don't care for physical anymore.
They'd rather listen to, watch, or play, on downloaded copies that they can access almost anywhere on any similar device.

Yes, the internet is absolutely terrible at the moment for loads of places, and bandwidth caps are growing in popularity (even though they should be there in the first place! Unlimited is pure lies!)
And as more people go DD, more servers are needed, or sites just get pummeled in to the ground. Steam goes down half the time even with only a small subset of users who game when something big happens. Imagine if you shifted the entire network towards digital downloads... it'd cause explosions! (exaggeration...possibly)
But if there is a driving force to push them to upgrade, they will do it. They have the cash, most of them just don't want to waste any money.
They will figure out ways to better reach more areas, cheaper ways to send more data, caching servers in various regions, physical hubs for stores through the transition period where people can take memory sticks / discs to if they have slow / no internet, whatever it is they will do it because it is their business and if they don't others might, so they lose more customers and the ever-turning circle of competition turns some more.

The next couple decades are going to be interesting indeed.

Re:not quite (1)

residieu (577863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367049)

I expect that Brittanica insisted they be paid the same for each copy of the digital version as the cover price of the print version.

Disagree. (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366271)

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.

Re:Disagree. (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366499)

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.

Well I disagree with you... (2)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366501)

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 families during the mid 90s.

Re:Well I disagree with you... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39367081)

I'd say the OP is a little early with his date of 1993. Yes Mosaic came out then but unless you were affiliated with a university (were a student or worked there) or were in a government job, you probably had never hear of the internet and the world wide web. Most home consumers were still in the walled gardens known as CompuServe, AOL and the like.

Re:Well I disagree with you... (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367565)

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 lines for hours or days at a time and their network wasn't built to handle that. Now phone companies are complaining that video downloads are killing them so they have to constrain bandwidth.

I paid much less for my internet access in 1993 than I pay today for internet. Of course, my connection is nearly a thousand times faster than when i had dialup.

Re:Disagree. (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366545)

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. (3, Insightful)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Disagree. (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367017)

And what useful information out there was very hard to find for the average user! It's easy to forget that only recently has finding information on the net become trivial. It used to involve a fair amount of effort.

You're early by 3-4 years (3, Insightful)

default luser (529332) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367315)

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.

truth v. verifiability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366299)

I'd argue that the trimph of verifiability over truth - a maxim of many governments but not reaching the West until the propaganda machines of the '80s - was what killed Britannica (speling?).

"Over-anxious parents", being newspeak for "parents who like their children to have a broad understanding of the world", didn't switch to Encarta - they simply stopped existing. Kids were not primed from an early age toward manufacture or thought, whether as a supervising engineer or the guy sitting on the assembly line. Instead, the bright, motivated child would be taught that his position in society was to make a lot of money, stand back and to let the wealth trickle down. In such an environment, what matters is not what is true, but what you can convince other people to be true.

Not just a typo, it seems (2)

ArAgost (853804) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366309)

Maybe if you bought one you would know at least how to spell its name. It's “Britannica”, for your information.

TFA's premise is right but... (4, Insightful)

mykepredko (40154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366347)

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

They forgot to patent (5, Funny)

Logger (9214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366351)

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

Re:They forgot to patent (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366663)

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

Re:They forgot to patent (2)

Tyler Eaves (344284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367245)

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

Re:They forgot to patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39367621)

That would be Oracle.

Encarta was nice (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

PC's killed Brittanica (0)

John3 (85454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366359)

If you dig deeper it's really the PC itself that killed paper encyclopedias. In addition to Encarta there was suddenly online access to search engines and research resources. Combine this with the ease of copy/paste and word processing and you had a pretty decent research center and paper writing tool. The encyclopedia was certainly a status symbol, but now you had the newfangled "personal computer" to show off. So Encarta was part of it, but I think the blame (credit) really is with the PC.

Re:PC's killed Brittanica (2)

Jiro (131519) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366617)

That's what the article said. The Slashdot summary was misleading.

Re:PC's killed Brittanica (1)

John3 (85454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366657)

Doh! Should have RTFA.

Good riddance. It was too expensive. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366651)

Only rich elite kids could afford the Brittanica.

Re:Good riddance. It was too expensive. (1)

John3 (85454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366763)

Only rich elite kids could afford the Brittanica.

Or middle-income families who would stretch their finances for a year or two in order to purchase encyclopedias that they hoped would get their children to college (as well as look impressive in the living room).

Re:Good riddance. It was too expensive. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39367233)

Well, my lower-income family got a Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia set (which is still in my mother's living room, actually) and I think it was a great buy. I remember I would read it for fun. Never A-Z, but I'd grab a random book and read random articles from it as a kid. I'm now really glad my mom kept us from destroying it (like we did many things as kids) and I should check that it's still complete next time I'm around.

Wikipedia is better. (1)

Severus Snape (2376318) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366447)

Brittanica's death isn't Microsoft's fault in the slightest. Brittanica realised that digital was the way forward so looking back, at least they got something right but Encarta just wasn't good enough. Wikipedia's model makes much more sense in our modern day internet world where people collaborate information and make decisions democratically. It's their own fault for executing the move to digital poorly.

This is a real Kodak moment! (5, Funny)

LeenusT (579645) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366451)

Hmmm, I've seen this situation somewhere else in the world...

it's the economy, stupid (0)

jsepeta (412566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366541)

nope, it's not that computers supplanted our need to read books. it's that there's only so much money in the family (or school) budget, and if you're shelling out $600-$1000 for a pc, you don't have that money available to spend on a bunch of books that you know are just going to get dusty and sit around waiting to become outdated.

Overpriced CDROM (3, Insightful)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366551)

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.

I am thankful for Wikipedia (1, Insightful)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366593)

Encarta was crap, Wikipedia is a phenomenal source of information and I routinely donate to support Wikipedia.

Re:I am thankful for Wikipedia (2)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367571)

When I was a kid, my parents bought a very expensive set of hardback encyclopedias. When I got my second PC Clone, it came with a free copy of Encarta.

One day, I needed to do a report and cite references, so I looked up the same entries in each. They were absolutely identical.

Crap as it may be, it was the same as paper encyclopedias when it first came out, except that it also had video.

Not dead yet (1)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366595)

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

Re:Not dead yet (1)

turkeyfeathers (843622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366909)

Give it time.

I want one but I think I'll have to do without (1)

adriccom (44869) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366677)

The new one, the last one is a bit pricey for individuals, though certainly worth it for institutions:

Encyclopaedia Britannica - The Final Print Edition $1,395.00

and now that I think of it I never finished reading the one my parents got for me when I was in elementary school.

Cheers,
adric

terrible software (1)

blindbat (189141) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366737)

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.).

Compton's? (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366851)

According to wikipedia, [wikipedia.org] Compton's was the first multimedia CD-ROM encyclopedia. I think we had a copy of it, too.

This just in... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366853)

Video killed the radio star. Details at 11

Back in 1988 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366889)

I remember being in the Military and we had Britanica salesmen on the military base trying to sell Encycopedias. I remember a buddy of mine proudly displaying his set in his Barracks room. I must admit they were a handsome set. I made mention to him why did you buy those heavy books? They are getting ready to go digital in a few years.

Oh well.

Get it RIGHT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366905)

I bought a bootleg Britannica CD somewhere in a green field. It insisted I use some ancient browser, so I did. Still there, still works well off CD. But now I go to Wikipedia first - surprise! If the topic is recondite enough, what I read is out-of-copyright Britannia; serious, seminal text.

Now I have a (store-boughten) later Britannia, but unlike the bootleg CD it is not text-only, has bells and whistles, and confuses - Fail. There's a missed opportunity somewhere in there.

OED to note, please. Only just got it to work on Win7, no Mac, no Linux, now what?

I don't feel bad for Brittanica (2)

paranoid123 (633401) | more than 2 years ago | (#39366915)

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.

Encarta did NOT kill Britannica (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39366947)

MindMaze did.

I still hate that jester :(

I agree with the hypothesis... (2)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Alternate source... (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367205)

I think most of information in the summary can also be found here: :-)
- Encarta [wikipedia.org]
- Encyclopædia Britannica [wikipedia.org]

Consider this thought experiment (5, Interesting)

djl4570 (801529) | more than 2 years ago | (#39367287)

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
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