MSN Encarta introduces wiki-like enhancements

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April 9, 2005

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Microsoft's Encarta has announced the addition of a blog as well as some wiki-like functionality to the online subscription encyclopedia.

Encarta is welcoming revision suggestions from their users, but they have a disclaimer:

Encarta is different from open-content encyclopedias found elsewhere on the Web that post users' changes immediately.

When the changes are implemented at Encarta, readers can click an "Edit this article" link to have their contribution reviewed by editors at Microsoft for possible use.

The web enhancement has introduced a minor security glitch for the subscription service. When trying to look up an article on Encarta as a non-subscriber, web surfers receive a teaser page suggesting the user sign up for a subscription [1]. However, using the editor URL for the same article will get a WYSIWYG display of the article requested; a simple way around the subscription requirement [2].


Is Encarta trying to follow Wikipedia?

In an interview with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, on Friday he suggested the two are not the same, and Encarta's model will not be able to do what Wikipedia does.

  • Q: Do you think Microsoft is going to throw enough money at this to snow under Wikipedia?
  • A: It seems unlikely to me that they can afford to hire enough editors to compete effectively with the thousands of dedicated volunteers at Wikipedia. And it seems even more unlikely that people will voluntarily contribute to Microsoft's closed proprietary project. Who wants to volunteer to make Microsoft even richer, when they can volunteer at Wikipedia and make the world a better place?
  • Q: Is this the beginning of large corporate commercial wiki ventures?
  • A: I do think that the wiki editing model has much to recommend it, but companies have to understand that a community is not just isolated individuals you can exploit. Wiki editing is a powerful tool, but it requires a commitment to genuinely caring about the community for it to work.
  • Q: Encarta broke 40,000 articles not long ago: does this mean they have focused on "hard" and "real" articles and Wikipedia is basically fluff, entertainment?
  • A: Well, amongst our 500,000+ articles (in English Wikipedia alone) of course there are many topics which people might consider fluff. But I think you'd be hard pressed to find any article in Encarta that we don't also cover, usually in a more comprehensive fashion.
It has taken them so long to get to 40,000 articles because they are utilizing an outmoded model of economic production, with proprietary content and expensive staffers. Anyway, what they are doing is obviously an attempt to seem more like Wikipedia, but in reality their model doesn't appear to come close. People submit suggestions which are then reviewed by a staff of editors, yawn.
  • Q: You mentioned in your blog entry on this story, and earlier, that most online people aren't likely to give their effort to a company to get rich off without any pay themselves. Does this necessarily mean Wikipedia is a better choice for them?
  • A: When people contribute to Wikipedia, they know that everything they are doing is under a free license. So they don't have to trust nearly as much that the Wikimedia Foundation will do the right thing and take their free contribution and pass it along for free to someone else. With Microsoft, it is just as clear that they will not be doing the right thing. Is Microsoft going to release Encarta under a free license?

Sources

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