Microsoft announced today that it is discontinuing its Encarta encyclopedia in all of its various incarnations. The DVDs will be off the market by June, existing subscriptions will stop getting updates later this year, and the MSN Encarta web sites will be turned off on October 31.

Microsoft Student with Encarta For the last few years, Microsoft has been marketing Encarta with Microsoft Student, templates and learning guides aimed at middle and high school students. Microsoft Student never really got much traction and will also be withdrawn from the market.

I always liked Encarta. The articles weren’t very deep but the multimedia presentation was pretty compelling – it had music from around the world, thousands of photos and videos, and inventive timelines and graphs. I went looking for an online atlas last week and couldn’t find anything that was as nicely presented as Encarta’s atlas.

Microsoft only gives one reason for getting out of the business:

“People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

Well, yes, and it can be stated in one word: Wikipedia. According to one Internet ratings service, Wikipedia got 97 percent of the visits that Web surfers in the United States made to online encyclopedias in January. Encarta’s authors could never get Encarta to be as deep or up to date as the army of contributors to Wikipedia. The New York Times has an article today about how Wikipedia grew to be one of the top ten global web sites, “a rags-to-rags story of world domination in information that could only have happened in the Internet age.”

Alas, poor Encarta! I knew it well.