Discovering Encarta Encyclopedia

While growing up, my first exposure to a computer was with an Apple Macintosh. It was tall and square and noisy; it was something different. My grandfather had a construction company and needed help keeping track of projects and payroll. He trusted my mother could do a good job so he purchased a computer and hired her. Her job was to spend a few hours a week transferring data from stacks of paper onto a program and then printing out invoices and account receivables. Paper checks would also be printed through it.

It's when I first understood the potential of a computer. The ability to calculate complicated math formulas, the ability to keep track of time and manage projects faster and more accurately than with pen and paper. It was all possible with this machine.

Thanks to that Macintosh, my grandfather's business was able to move faster and grow quicker.

A few years later, I got my first computer. One of my earliest memories was receiving a CD-ROM with Encarta Encyclopedia '96 along with the computer. I didn't know what to expect from it, but as soon as I inserted the disk. My world changed.

Browsing Encarta on my computer was a lot like a game. It gave you a few options, including the standard "search" to find any type of information, you could explore maps and even play a game!

I was young, excited, and obsessed with information. The internet was already happening but I had yet to discover its full potential.

At the same time we got a computer, we purchased a printer machine and in a few weeks I was printing stacks of paper on every interesting topic I could find on Encarta. I had a bit of FOMO that somehow all this information would expire or something.

One of those topics was information about cheetahs. Don't ask me why but the content was amazing.

I had all the information I needed. Whatever I wanted to know and absorb, it was there, searchable. How fast they ran, how long they lived, where they lived. I was then able to travel to places, digitally. Cheetahs lived in the Serengeti? Where was that? Click, click...found it!

The world was suddenly in front of me.

I couldn't unplug, I didn't sleep. I remember spending countless hours just browsing this program.

I then began using the game, Mind Maze. It was just a set of questions presented inside a medieval castle with medieval music coming out of my speakers.

I was possessed.

Perhaps I was young. But I still remember feeling bliss in those days. Just watch the video below and look at the evolution of the different Encarta Intros – you might find it soothing.

Encarta Encyclopedia was a Microsoft project based off of the Funk & Wagnalls  Standard Encyclopedia which was first published in 1912.

Its project codename inside Microsoft was Gandalf, wouldn't be surprised if the name inspiration came from "The Hobbit", the book by J. R. R. Tolkien published in 1937.

Fast forward to 2000's, Encarta content became available on the web. Its success as a CD-ROM was slowly dying as the internet became the new new thing.

A few years later, it was shut down. Largely due to Wikipedia.org's success as a free and open platform. Add to that the ability to search anything quickly through Google and it was only a matter of time that Encarta would be crushed.

Even though Encarta was a fantastic product, it couldn't compete with Wikipedia. At the end of its life, Encarta had only about ~62,000 articles and you had to pay for them, while Wikipedia already had millions of articles and...it was free for everyone.

The power of the internet soon made Encarta obsolete. Yet, in hindsight, Encarta was an eye opener of the possibilities. Encarta's eventual demise is a lesson that technology evolves very fast, yet even though the platforms and services change and get better over time, the mission of these products remain the same – empowering humanity.

We had Encarta, then Wikipedia, now what? What's the future of access to information?

Today, early adopters use a combination of programs to annotate their findings online. Tools like Notion and Roam are enriching the online experience connecting information (thoughts and data) like nodes on a network. We can certainly elevate everyone's thinking by combining data and facts onto networked information.

We see that truthful information is increasingly harder to come across. Our institutions have failed to remain neutral in difficult times, so it seems logical that we must find new ways to validate, distribute, and share factual information with others.

Perhaps we finally see the use of crypto and blockchain to catalog the world information.