A sad announcement

There was a sad announcement on the Microsoft website recently to the effect that the CD-ROM and web-based Microsoft Encarta encyclopaedia is being discontinued at the end of October this year.

Encarta was a fantastic learning resource in the many years that it has been available, first as a CD-ROM, and then also on the Internet. I daresay it has helped millions of children with their studies and provided hours of entertainment and information for those of us who were no longer and school.

I reviewed many versions of Encarta over the years and was always very impressed with the high quality of the content and, as the years went past, the additions to it which included a World English Dictionary an atlas. The scope of the coverage was immense and a new version was always good for many hours of browsing.

Its great strength, and what turned out to be its Achilles’ Heel, was that it was put together by a highly professional team and the content was strictly vetted to ensure its accuracy. Its downfall has obviously come about as a result of the Catch 22 situation that professionals do tend to cost a lot of money and in harsh economic circumstances, it becomes more and more difficult to sustain those sort of salaries.

The web-based encyclopaedias, chief amongst which is Wikipedia.com, have won the battle because their content is contributed for free by their users, giving them an overwhelming advantage when it comes to competing against other services. Wikipedia owes its success to the fact that anyone can log on and contribute new articles or edit existing ones.

The founder anticipated that inaccurate information would entered into articles but that these would be continually reviewed by the other users and corrected. The jury is still out on whether this model will succeed in providing an accurate source of information or result in a big archive of garbage. I, myself, have often used Wikipedia and have sometimes worried about the quality of some of the information that I’ve discovered there.

Wikipedia does seem to have some intelligence built in and it can detect when an article does not have what it considers to be enough references for each of the points in an article. That is a start but someone maliciously putting false information into a Wikipedia article could also enter false references, and the system would have no way of telling the difference.

I have found Wikipedia very useful but I still have the nagging feeling that an encyclopaedia put together by experts is probably going to be a better bet in the long run. Anyway, it’s farewell to Microsoft Encarta which, by the way, isn’t the first CD-ROM encyclopaedia that Microsoft has discontinued.

For a number of years, they put out a CD-ROM called Cinemania which was an absolutely brilliant resource on all matters cinematic and, in the last few years of its existence, it even updated itself over the Internet on a regular basis with new movie reviews and facts. I was devastated when it was canceled because I’ve spent many happy hours browsing through its movie reviews, biographies, and so forth.

Fortunately, we now have AllMovie (www.allmovie.com) which is a huge online resource on films and filmmakers. It has all the information but it is not quite as polished as Cinemania was and doesn’t seem to have the large number of film star photos. In doing the research for this article, went to AllMovie and, with one link leading to another, it was a couple of hours later that I surfaced.

The afternoon had somehow disappeared and I had whole lot of new film titles on my wishlist. I hadn’t know, for example, that there had been a sequel to one of my favourite movies, Gregory’s Girl. It’s called Gregory’s 2 Girls and I’ll definitely be including that in my next order.
Thank heavens for online ordering, because it seems as though the selection of videos that we are being offered gets worse all the time. There certainly isn’t much to choose from on our locally-available television stations and the situation is almost as bad at most video rental stores in town.

I went into a newly opened one the other day and felt very depressed because there wasn’t much there that was not B-Grade garbage, or more than a couple of years old. There was hardly a classic of any sort in sight, no decent war movies and no westerns.
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