Who didn't see this day coming?
Microsoft has finally admitted defeat to all conquering Wikipedia this week after admitting it will discontinue its once hugely successful Encarta digital encyclopaedia.
"On October 31, 2009, MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009," said Microsoft in a statement. "Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009... Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft's goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today's consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business."
Yes, that is about as close as you'll see Microsoft go to saying Wikipedia battered it. In truth, the outcome isn't surprising as Encarta was created using paid content and subsequently charged users for 'Premium' access via CD/DVD or online. This meant as of 2009 Encarta offered approximately 60,000 articles. Compare this with Wikipedia's completely free 2.8m articles in English, 12m across all languages.
Of course for those horribly sceptical of Wikipedia's open access editorial policy (despite the fact numerous studies have found it to be just as reliable as professional reference sites) Encarta offered a decent alternative. A similar future likely awaits Google's stuttering knol. Whether the axe also falls upon the recently online Britannica on the other hand is perhaps more open to debate as surely a market still exists for this famous and ancient brand (first published in 1768).
That said, can anything compete with free...?