In the summer of '91, I was tasked with assembling a 386 PC with an early CD-ROM drive to demo an early build of Encarta at a trade show. It was a lot of effort to find a combination of hardware and drivers that would work reliably together.
Encarta itself (at least at that time) was written as a Word document. Hyperlinks were defined using footnotes, and animation and audio placeholders were defined with custom OLE objects. The whole thing got exported as RTF and fed to a compiler, which created the runtime data structures optimized for CD-ROM access and that also built a full-text search index. The compilation was very slow and required huge amounts of RAM.
Around this time, the team had some awareness of HTML as one of many emerging hypertext markup languages, but the internet was still a few years away and no one knew what format would "win" for hypertext. In any case, there were no tools or browsers at all, so we had to build everything -- including our own search engine for the CD-ROM.
- 1945 linked microfilm pages in the essay "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush 
- 1964 the term "hyperlink" in Project Xanadu by Ted Nelson
- 1983 the "highlighted link" in HyperTIES system by Dan Ostroffin 
- 1989 manifesto for the Web by Tim Berners-Lee
"Douglas falls asleep in front of a television and dreams about future time when he may be allowed to play a more active role in the information he chooses to digest."
That was a pain - I think I ended up writing RTF by hand.
It was rather simple, but thanks to its hyrarchical structure extremely accessible, even when you just started using the operating system.
DEC's extraordinarilly well structured documentation added to the whole experience.
Compared to that most technical documentation today is outright atrocious.
Interesting, as the 486 came out in late '89. Seems you'd like a little more oomph, but perhaps they were too expensive at the time.
It wasn't so much about oomph as it was about buggy device drivers that would inevitably blue screen at some point, or flaky CD-ROM drives that just never seemed to read the same data twice the same way.
Seems like a case of "high-spec dev machine" vs "example target device".
To put that in perspective, $2000 in 1991 is $3700 in today’s dollars, and the 486 would be a staggering $13,500 today.
Although '91 is earlier than I got back into PCs, strongest memories are probably more around '93, '94. The 486SX might have been the ~$2000 computer at that time. I remember later having the AMD 386/40 and 486/100 made better performance affordable.
Internet history fairy here to make sure people know that the internet has been in continuous operation since 1969 . (And DARPA started funding research for the express purpose of creating a global computer network in 1960.)
What was still a few years away in '91 is awareness or interest in the internet by a significant fraction of consumers (or by Bill Gates for that matter).
: Some people would deny the name "internet" to any network prior to the introduction of the internet protocol suite in 1982, but it was the same user-visible services (email, ftp, telnet, netnews, etc) running on both the earlier network that began operation in 1969 and the later network that some want to reserve the name "internet" for. In other words, the switch in 1983 from NCP to TCP/IP was mostly transparent to users.
We had internet; what we didn't yet have was HTTP.
And we didn't yet have a graphical web browser that ran on Windows or Mac. And MSDOS was AFAIK never adapted to allow the computer to interact with the user while something was downloading or uploading. (I.e., it lacked the necessary kind of multitasking.)
I wrote about this topic a few years ago (https://tedium.co/2017/07/13/who-killed-the-encyclopedia/), and it led a former CEO of Encyclopaedia Britannica to speak up (I added some of his comments to the piece). There was a lot of back-room wheeling and dealing around digital encyclopedias during that era, much of it centered around Encarta—Microsoft acquired a lot of publishers during that period and it effectively disrupted most of the rest out of existence.
But even considering that, Encarta was special. I think Microsoft had the right idea—it was the killer app for CD-ROMs—though it turned out that the internet would only make it a temporary success story.
It didn’t have to be like that, honestly. Imagine what might have happened if, for example, Microsoft worked more closely with the Wikimedia Foundation on the highly visual treatments the company was known for with Encarta. The nonprofit ownership was a good move, but the fact that MS seemed to cede the market entirely, especially so soon after disrupting the whole thing, was unfortunate.
Literally a week after getting Encarta a door to door encyclopedia salesmen came to our house and I showed him why I did not need his books. You could see the look of terror in his eyes.
That's an alien relic of an anecdote as there ever was.
The world has profoundly changed in the last twenty five years. Cheap, ubiquitous, networked computing has almost completely rewired society and changed business, jobs, dating, friendship, travel.
I really wonder what the next big changes will be. Cheap satellites in orbit and dramatically reduced LEO costs? Better battery tech? Advances in materials science? Human cloning and genetic modification? What modern trappings of the present time will feel used and dated in twenty years?
You'd think that universal access to all human knowledge would have remade society, but actually most of the humans don't really seem to care about knowledge. We got the Arab Spring, which turned into Daesh, the Syrian Civil War, and a new military dictatorship in Egypt. (And we got anti-vaxxers, global warming denialists, and "jet fuel can't melt steel beams.") Wikileaks didn't really move the needle on Obama's re-election. If cheap, ubiquitous, networked computing is rewiring the power structures of society, that's more because of Russian trolls and Twitter bots than anything else.
Probably the changes you're talking about will come. But I'm not convinced that it's a revolution that cute girls on the bus give me their Instagram instead of their phone number.
(See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20741592 for my thoughts on other, more positive possibilities of modern informatics.)
For the majority of people, however, things have changed little.
Could you not do this before? Just book a plane ticket at the airline desk and ask for an empty room once you arrive at a hotel?
The other things he said are mostly true. Here in Buenos Aires I've never owned a car, but that has more to do with being a huge megalopolis than anything else.
It might sound pretty awkward these days of pathetic instagram 'celebrities', but actually makes things like backpacking in the middle of nowhere much, much better experience. The magic is still out there
Even in poor countries Facebook and cheap instant communication like WhatsApp have rewired the way people socialize and stay in touch.
This is mostly a response to the commenter before you, except your last sentence.
A budget flight to the continent and a week in an AirBnB in Europe can cost as little as a few hundred quid. Something that was only really available to the rich, or at least the very well off, is now available to almost anyone.
Some do, but I can get dollars from the US into most European currencies for less than .5%.
We've come a long way from the '90s.
Revolut will also allow you to move 5K GBP per month without any fees.
There might be some parallels here today with machine learning. Neal Stephenson's quote about the future already being here but not being evenly distributed seems appropriate.
The takeaways I get of this:
1. Exponentially-developing technology can pass you by quickly. The Internet went from exceedingly obscure to global in the ten years of the 1990s. Broadband wasn't ubiquitous by 1999, but it was increasingly available.
2. Standards matter. Even constructing a workstation that could handle reading Encarta was a challenge, and the tools to compose, render, and especially, present multimedia content (images, audio, video) were not common. Microsoft went the closed-source proprietary route, dooming them to the dustbin (though pieces were salvaged).
3. Standards are hard. Re-read above.
4. There are thresholds of utility that make or break things. I've been around infotech long enough (somewhat pre-dating the periods discussed here) that I've seen numerous technologies go from extreme cutting edge to widely adopted to passe. (And quite a few proposed but never gaining critical mass.) The reasons why any given tech fails right now are numerous. Luck plays a major role.
The present has exceptionally cheap bulk storage (my tablet has a 128GB removable microSD card for about $50), high-speed, ubiquitous, and wireless networking, and tools for sharding and distributing updated documents and file formats (git, rysnc, etc.). This makes distributed updatable large-scale works possible.
The technology of written works has undergone several seismic shifts, from clay tablet to papayrus roll to codex to moveable type. Less well-known (but only slightly) are the updatable formats: loose-leaf, three-ring, and replaceable bindings, all introduced in the late 19th century, which enabled updatable works. These were true "periodicals", where sections could be updated with amendments or replacements as information changed.
The database, digital file, early version control, Wiki, and distributed version control are, IMO, all legitimately novel forms of written works, which should be recognised as such. They have and will continue to change how content is created and used, and affects and interacts with society.
This reminds me of the infamous Today show segment circa 1994.
What would that look like? An incompatible sister network that offers something the existing internet does not offer? A new network created after major disasters and world wide nuclear war destroy all existing infrastructure? I can’t imagine the existing internet would ever be replaced, certainly not by something offering privacy like ToR, because not enough people really care about privacy. The average person doesn’t really give a damn.
At some point we can optimize away the IP and TCP layers.
"Replacement in what sense?" probably deserves exploration.
The underlying fundamental concepts of the Internet are 1) packet-switched (as opposed to through-circuit) communications, and inter-connected networks, via BGP.
There's a lot that's layered on top of this which is seen as fundamental, but is not entirely so, most especially end-to-end connectivity and universal point-to-point access. The Internet formed under tremendously different conditions than exist today, with only a handful of nodes through 1980, and even as late as the late 1980s only a few thousands.
Roughly each order-of-magnitude increases since then seem to have come with its own set of additional headaches and concerns, mostly regarding management and mitigation of abuse. The idea of guarded borders has long been seen as anathema. I see it as all but inevitable, and the question is whether that's done well or poorly.
There are a number of earlier networking ideas which might resurface or be adapted for new use, and a survey of history might be useful here. (John S. Quarterman's The Matrix, 1990, is a fascinating time-capsule exploration of these just at the cusp of the modern Internet -- the World Wide Web does not even make mention, though "The Web, a national Canadian nonprofit conferencing system formed in 1987, does.
I'd also look at uses of the Internet and user needs.
Fundamentally, digital networks serve as communications and control media. Whether or not these need to (or can be) segregated is an open question, but splitting off, say, the IoT from other communications, might make sense, along with SCADA and military communications -- all largely control networks.
Splitting out video and voice from text and data, likewise. Much of high-demand comes from those.
As the Internet heads from the first billion or two users to the remaining five or so, questions of what technology, interfaces, and devices are appropriate for a set of digital newcomers may be worth consideration.
Or, looking at this differently: the degree to which those already here may be interested in maintaining a separate space for themselves. Not that this is necessarily equitable, but it may well prove to be attractive, say, in particular to minimise fraud and other malicious use or attacks originating from the global poor, who are in many ways justified in wanting some of the pie that's been denied to, or taken from, them.
How the needs, wants, attractions, and/or detractors or aversions affect technology development and adoption remains to be seen.
Google. Circa 2030.
I can see your point that content outside a curated context replaces an encyclopedia to an extent, and up until about 5-10 years ago, as clickbait and black-hat SEO finally won out, much noncommercial Web content was at least informative, if of generally lower quality than traditional printed sources. Convenience has a huge edge over quality, though. These days, it's Wikipedia's curated content, especially for complex breaking news stories, that is my first go-to. After Idleword's (Maciej Cezglowski's) piece on Hong Kong hit HN last week, I finally took a look at Wikipedia's article on the protests there. A full 73 page long article with references on a protest movement only a couple of months old. That's staggering, and exceeds all but the very best news sources. (Another case I'd noted was the Oroville Dam case, where Brad Plumer's article for Vox was the only trad med piece I could find even remotely approaching Wikipedia's article. The first instance of this I recall was the 2004 Boxing Day quake/tsunami in Indonesia / Indian Ocean.)
Wikipedia, on the other hand, greatly enhances Web search, though it also benefits generally from the high profile resulting from that.
Wikipedia's crowdsourcing, the reliance on underlying technologies (Wiki, HTML, mediawiki markup), and on a huge set of organisational systems, standards, practices, and solutions Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation have arrived at, were transformational. Though those too strongly resemble the largely equivalent or analogous practices of earlier encyclopaedic efforts dating back to at least Diderot, as well as other reference works (OED, see Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman).
(Note: updated to add 2nd 'graph beginning "I can see your point...")
This confuses a number of different types of technology. For example, we haven't undergone a shift from codices -- we still use that form for all our written works today.
Clay and papyrus are materials on which text is written. Scroll and codex are physical forms in which long texts are organized. Movable type is a technology for recycling printing blocks. None of those three types of things are related to the other two, except that it's impossible to store clay as scrolls because it will dry. Clay is stored looseleaf.
Interestingly, the history of writing in the Near East shows exactly the same confusion -- a big reason written Aramaic grew more popular than Akkadian was that it was drawn on paper and Akkadian was carved into clay, despite the fact that logically nothing's stopping you from carving letters into clay or drawing cuneiform on paper.
Moveable type, cheap paper, mass literacy, vernacular language, typographic conventions, high-speed presses, and mass distribution, create a wholly different impact.
As Elizabeth Eisenstein noted, the printing press is an agent of social change. Generalised, all comms tech is.
So do scrolls. You're not supposed to open the entire scroll at once. The codex is better at this.
> but was still phenomenally expensive to create. On the order of a million dollars per copy.
This is nonsense. You can prepare a very expensive book, but you don't have to. The idea that books were necessarily earth-shakingly expensive to create conflicts with the known reality of commercial popular novels in the ancient world.
Temps up 2°C, marine ecosystems collapse, and hundreds of millions of refugees?
They nailed the current temperature rise. No reason to think the rest of the extrapolated curve is wrong.
possibly https://skepticalscience.com/1982-exxon-accurate-prediction.... (totally unverified - lots of links to the sources though)
Heretofor uninhabitable places such as ... greenland maybe?
Also, worth considering is that it is virgin territory for exploration for minerals and other goodies.
No shortage of water either.
But even all that aside, it is newly available space. If you can build a city in a desert (Phoenix, Arizona lets say) you can build one on Greenland.
As for soil, the creation of soil in Ireland and the UK took quite a bit of time.
I moved to London last year and have used cash roughly zero times since. Visiting my parents (outside London) is like jumping in to treacle. Finding coins for the bus? Paper tickets on the train? Give me a god damn break. Even using chip and pin is weird now since almost all my purchases, except for dining out, are either touchless, online, or via mobile app.
In 20 years i think cash (banknotes, coinage), and maybe even bank accounts as we know them today, will be an almost alien concept to kids. Brick and mortar banks will be gone entirely. I certainly haven't set foot in one over a decade.
Don't have a safety deposit box with precious metals and jewels inside?
Many, many people do - among other items (guns, cash, drugs, etc).
While "brick and mortar" banks may not exist, something of the same nature will - some kind of high-security place to store stuff like that, away from home. Maybe it will also be combined with some kind of networked backup storage for data as well...
To an extent, places like this do exist - private vault companies; always have.
I guess my point is that physical banks offer other services which can't be replicated virtually.
Give this a try, go open and put some rock in your safe deposit box, then call the bank and tell them you placed a C4 explosive in the box and will detonate it if they dont deposit gold under a park-bench in 2 days time.
Then watch how safe your safety deposit box is.
I live in backwards South Africa, and even I can't remember the last time I needed to use cash. So I'm totally with you on that one.
But bankless? Eh, I think we are at least two or tree decades away from that.
I think subscribing to that was one of the best things my parents ever did for my education. Over the course of my youth I devoured it several times and credit it to my earliest exposure to countless subjects that they'd never touch at school.
One of the most notable things about The Joy of Knowledge was the extraordinary explanatory art. One day I will have to find my books and make some scans.
And, yes, I seem to recall the price was something in the $500-$1000 ballpark. Which was definitely a lot of money in the early 70s(?) when I got it--and, yes, the salesman came to the house.
Same here! The knowledge was obsolete but the memories of my childhood were a part of it. I eventually recycled most of them after I last moved but there are a few books I still have somewhere.
A few years ago, during a move,I finally parted with the set my parents had gotten in the late 60s or early 70s. It was painful, but I had to really downsize at the time.
I still have my 1911 edition, which I can't get rid of, even if I haven't cracked a volume in a couple of years.
One word for Encarta and the like: Edutainment.
Looking up things in the card catalog, and on microfiche at my local library, was as much fun as locating the book itself. Sometimes, in the course of searching the catalog, I'd come across other books that sounded interesting, so I would write down those call numbers, too.
Or browsing microfiche roll magazines and newspapers - high speed fast forward and reverse, then for 10 cents a page (!) pop off a copy to take home.
That is one part I don't miss - having to pay for photocopies...
Amusingly, many of the articles in Encarta were copied verbatim from there.
>"After failing to purchase rights to the text of the Encyclopædia Britannica and World Book Encyclopedia for its Encarta digital encyclopedia, Microsoft reluctantly used (under license) the text of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia for the first editions of its encyclopedia. This licensed text was gradually replaced over the following years with content Microsoft created itself."
Same experience here. It was like having the computer from the Starship Enterprise but it was right here and now and I got to use it. It’s been a long time since I felt that sense of wonder from anything in computing.
Whilst it's not especially useful in today's world, it's a fascinating relic, especially on trades and skills that have declined or died out. On medicine, zoology and other sciences, it's occasionally surprising how we used to think. I'd periodically pick it up and read a few entries at random, and often disappear down a rabbit hole. At some point it stopped being obsolete and pointless to become fascinating history.
That's one thing Encarta could have been had it continued - a valuable snapshot of how thought and knowledge evolved. Always updated Wikipedia can and will never be that as sadly you can't snapshot a given date, and digging through edit histories is horribly unfriendly. We may have lost something there.
Same for me. My grandfather was a teacher and I saved quite a few of the old school/teaching books after he died.
Did you know that the Empire State Building is the highest building on earth?
Well, it was, when these books were printed. :-)
We actually asked them about this, IIRC - it turns out a lot of that stuff was licensed from third parties, and they weren't free to release it under a free content license, and didn't have the resources to sort out what was what.
Outside professionals, not many people stored videos or audio on their PC in the early day, so all the multimedia type stuff, and to some extent including video games ... was all centered around the CD-ROM.
I used to gobble up all the super cheap "multimedia collection" type disks available at the time.
To some extent what made computers the multimedia place to be was the good old CD-ROM, well before the internet took it over.
An early glimpse of the future, somewhat.
Encarta lasted from 1991-2009.
The iPod was introduced in 2001, saw sells start to fall off a cliff around 2009 and were all discontinued in 2017 - except for the iPod in name only iPod Touch. No one would say that the iPod was a failure. Encarta helped start the multimedia PC boom that helped make home computers more ubiquitous just like the iPod was Apple’s introduction to a wider audience.
Apples watch is still a watch even if it does a lot of other things. Microsoft never ported Encarta functionality to anything after 09, it just died.
Note FYQ1 is calendar quarter 4.
For most people cellphones have mostly replaced watches, digital cameras, keychain flashlights, and MP3 players not because they are awesome at it but because having slightly better but largely redundant devices is not worth it. https://www.statista.com/chart/5782/digital-camera-shipments...
The iPod’s time had passed and the iPod Touch could just as well be called an iPad Nano. It’s more of an iPad than iPod.
Not to sound cynical, but I believe MSFT wasn't trying to sell encyclopedias, they were trying to sell CD-ROM drives.
The upcoming Windows 93 (whoops, we slipped a little, make that 95) was going to require a billion floppy disks for distribution. Retail products were shipping in large boxes with comically tall stacks of expensive floppy disks.
CD-ROMs, on the other hand, are so cheap to distribute that AOL mailed them out as unsolicited junk mail.
It was worth sinking some money into a bunch of high-quality CD-ROM titles to get those drives standard on all PCs. Once that task was accomplished....
It came with a parallel port dongle -not mentioned in the box copy- to ensure that the precious was not shared.
It did not work right, and I was cured of buying that stuff.
It was a killer app for CD-ROM, but for the title of the killer app I'd say DeLorme's "Street Atlas USA" had at least an equal claim.
You may be wondering why I say "second PC" - well, just before graduating high school my parents bought me a laptop, a Tandy 1100HD - which was technically my first PC. Later, after I had left home on my own, I bought an Amiga 2000, then an Amiga 1200, before getting the 486.
Felt the same way with IE until Mozilla came along after Netscape died.
There was point in time where that truly felt like the future. Considering that we're now in the age of autoplaying, monetized "content" video nearly everywhere you go, it was nice to have only "primary source" video, aka stuff like the moon landing, or the MLK speech, instead of some nobody warbling on about its importance while splicing in stills of said video because they don't want to be in violation of the copyright.
The concept of finite, structured and bounded content is also extremely powerful in this era of overwhelming data, much of which rehashed and warmed over by various publications not to mention utterly infested with ads.
The concept of spending hours down a Wikipedia rabbit hole is not new, and it's one of the reasons I donate annually. But it first started with Encarta, and it's offline-only format has grown to be only more valuable as time goes on.
Even the VB5 bit is identical. Bought a 2-3$ Encarta copy from a random guy in a random store selling pirated CDs. I remember the guy sitting in his small shop, downloading stuff over Torrent and burning them to CDs. He had a machine with the most CD-writers I had ever seen in my life.
I loved flying over terrains in Encarta's terrain explorer (or whatever it was called, I didn't really understand English back then, perhaps even learned it through Visual Studio and Encarta). Whenever I was bored and kids do get bored often, I would get on Encarta, especially since Wikipedia wasn't a thing back then.
The USTR Special 301 Report already existed in 1998 and already singled out countries for possible trade sanctions for doing the kinds of things that permitted the US to develop economically in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I don't know if Argentina was already specifically targeted, though it was in later years, especially due to La Salada (Q.E.P.D.).
Start at https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DownTheRabbitHol... and before I know it time has gone.
Nowadays we read a Wikipedia article or watch a Youtube video on a topic but never interact with the content. It's all very passive. I was a child during the heyday of Encarta and I remember I had it and a few other specialized encyclopedias (one about animals, one about sea life, one about dinosaurs!!) and they were all interactive. I miss this about computers. Not all things have to be a game or passive which is what I see nowadays when a child has a screen in front of their face.
Of course Encarta wasn't there, but we have 20 years of technological advance. But for hobbyist Wikipedia authors that's too much work and for a commercial Encarta Wikipedia is too strong.
Best example I could find: https://youtu.be/Dl36Ty2PqMU?t=1147
My memories with Encarta aren’t that special - the searching was cool but I think I was jaded to the cdrom video thing already, wishing it could be better technically. Definitely gave you a sense of what could be possible with an endless source of material, irrespective of copyright.
Add to that, something like Encarta was curated by opinionated editors (whether or not you agree with them is different from the fact that the nature of content is different when it isn't trying to find consensus amongst absolutely everyone) and did not survive based on advertising as most internet content does today.
That set of factors made for a very different world of reading than today.
I was just overwhelmed by all the different software on offer, and would load up my bag with free samples and spec sheets for software I had no legitimate need for as a 10 year old, but I ate it all up. I would ride the BART home after, just pouring over my loot and being so excited to try the demos at home.
I went a few times after the internet took off, and it just wasn't the same. Who needs demos from an expo hall, when you can just download everything? There was nothing new to see at the hall, everything could be seen from your home just by visiting a url.
I love the world with the internet, but there certainly has been something lost.
I was about to write this myself. Wikipedia has so much information that it’s easy to surf page to page, link out, etc, and end up having skimmed 50 articles and still not understand the thing you came to look at.
I remember when our family first got Encarta, and I spent hour after hour reading and marvelling about how all this information could be so easily accessible! I think we had a 14k dial-up Internet connection at the time, and the web was barely getting started - I really had no idea how things would turn out!
Although I do remember the hard geography questions very frequently just being "What is the county seat of (insert random US county)?"
Besides Encarta, the mid 90s where also the time where I was first able to buy satellite imagery on CR-ROM for all of Germany from my collected lunch money and years before Microsoft's TerraServer changed the world, which itself was long before Google Maps took over.
Once some kid in my third grade class asked why race cars made noise they do when they passed, the teacher didn't give a satisfactory answer, and I was able to explain the Doppler effect to them based on animation I watched on Encarta.
(Enable Flash to make it slightly less cumbersome)
I still remember the joy I had researching the Stegosaurus and the Platypus between my local library and my copy of Encarta for a school project <3.
There was all of one or two internet providers in our county where I grew up at that time. Maybe one. We couldn’t afford it yet but my parents bought Encarta because it seemed like a wholesome tract for computer use.
I spent countless hours on there and used it for a ton of homework. IIRC my parents used it all the time as well. They likely still have the disks kicking around someplace.
The sad bit is that in some ways Cinemania in 1997 was superior to IMDB as it is today. IMDB is more comprehensive, but Cinemania was better designed and more fun to just browse through.
But yeah, it was a terrific resource; if nothing else it solidified Roger Ebert for young me as a source of truth on movies. :)
Contrast this to IMDB, which has some but not all of that information (no reviews, for instance), and what it does have is presented in a clunky, siloed fashion. It works, but it's not something that's absorbing to just browse through the way Cinemania was.
I've started creating an offline reference library because I see that search engines will be over whelmed with crap and frankly I don't want to have to find cell service to ask my handheld device to locate a factoid.
If you've read that now more than 50% of Google desktop searches don't result in a click, it is because Google is getting better at 'one boxing' the answer so you don't need to click through to read it.
 That project started by digitizing my referenced by less often used text books. Which lead to me digitizing text books for others as well. After Google's win on digitizing books is fair use for air cover much of the work applies NLP and a bit of machine learning to pull out facts which are not, in themselves copyrightable.
 "Google Wins Copyright Suit" --- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/04/18...
Another comment in this thread about having a tablet to do that suggests an interesting way to deploy something like this on inexpensive table hardware with a somewhat more bespoke (aka performant) OS and application architecture for appliance type operation. (think running a unikernel rather than a general purpose kernel in order to not spend cycles on things you won't ever need)
Since most of the text books I've scanned are hard covers I cut off the covers, scan those on flatbed scanner, then disassemble the binding to remove the pages. Cut off the margins to get to something closer to 8.5" wide (more modern text books have been "experimenting" with page sizes).
Disassembly takes about 20 minutes, scanning takes another, 10 minutes depending on how many sets I need to scan (the paper feeder for the ScanSnap is nominally 75 pages, but if it gets overloaded can misfeed). Occasionally I'll get a misfeed (two pages feed at the same time) and I generally clean the paper handling belts every 10 or 15 books because they get accumulation that make them less effective at gripping the paper.
If you have a handful of precious books that you really can't bear to cut up, commercial non-destructive scanning services are available at ~$30 per book.
Not ideal (IMO buying the physical book should entitle you to a zero marginal cost PDF copy too, which some publishers do adhere to) but certainly better than I expected.
Textbooks, are by their nature, more 'conduits of information' than works of art. (TAOCP not withstanding). Also they get regularly re-issued in order to be resold to students so their knowledge is more widely dispersed than many books.
When I was at Google I visited the book scanning operation a couple of times and they had these machines that would photograph a page, dewarp, and some of them even turn the page (some required a person to turn the pages). While I would love to have such a capability, the only way I could justify it would be to have texts I needed to add to my data set that were not mine to destroy.
My work-around for this issue so far has been to find and buy a second copy of a book on the used market to digitize, best of both worlds for me in that situation.
Interactive multimedia is dead and I think today's children are worse off for it.
Wikimedia Commons is more relaxed about licensing than Wikipedia is for text — because most of the images on Wikipedia and allied projects are not and cannot be created specifically for Wikipedia, we have to tolerate a wider spread of licensing terms. However, the images do need to be licensed for use on Wikipedia, which is already a pretty permissive license.
See my comment at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20741101 for more social context.
See http://of19.internetdsl.pl/bzdury/encarta/ (in Polish, but includes the screenshots in English, which are self-explanatory)
You can imagine my joy when, omewhere around 1991 or 1992, we got a new computer in the library at school. It was a dedicated station for the encyclopedia, and it was even set up in the same location as the printed ones were.
My faded memory recalls it being Compton's Encyclopedia. It ran on an 286 IBM PS/2 (the all-in-one unit), and it had a mouse, external CD-ROM, and a laser printer. The rumor was that it cost $10,000. It wasn't fast, it probably took closed to a minute to search for, and then retrieve an article.
They had to pick and choose what to go into depth on, but when they wanted to go into depth, they would hire the best writers in the field to explain everything really well. Issac Asimov penned more than one encyclopedia article, as did other science fiction authors.
I honestly learned most of my fundamental science knowledge from old 1950s and 1960s science fact books. Asimov in particular has multiple books that explain science really well, down to the level of nuclear fusion and fission, biochemistry, and a lot of other subjects, and I had a few other books in the same vein that were all really old, and really good.
I remember one book that was biographies of famous scientists, it went into depth about Marie Curry and her contributions to science. Reading that ~age 10 certainly impacted my views on gender equality and helped me believe that potential is not limited by gender.
Wikipedia, for all the great things about it, won't really do that. There isn't a Wikipedia page I can point literally anyone at and say "read this and you'll understand the fundamentals of radiation and atomic physics".
I am sure such resources are out there on the web, but the odds of stumbling upon those resources at random is less than the odds of coming across a good science book at random in a thrift store.
That said there are some awesome YT science channels who have worked to fill this gap in quite well, but video sources are different than written sources, with each having their strength. (I read that short 10 or so page biography of Marie Curry probably a half dozen times, not going to do that with a YT video!)
 Where anyone is defined as "age 10 and up, with no mathematical background, who wants to be entertained while they read."
That's the entire point. I'm not the expert. Nor am I able to even understand the basics of which direction to read/learn - that's what the expert curators are for.
I dont have source at moment. But I remember reading a few years ago that wikipedia had fewer errors than most all encyclopedias on average.
There is definitely something to be said about consistency and clustering but on average I believe wikipedia is still the best in fewest errors.
I remember Encarta being pretty good about having video files showing the outlines of wars and battles... at least for the Vietnam War which is what I remember most. I prefer watching a video outline of wars and battles on youtube rather than dig right into a wall of text on wikipedia.
I almost wish for a sort of intellectual property "eminent domain" promoting more things like famous news footage into the public domain where they fit an "almanac" need. Though I admit creating any sort of such program would be really hard to do, as the boundaries would be murky and it potentially would impact the revenue of companies and groups that generally need such revenue to survive (PBS, for example).
I found out-of-bound clips in like 4 of them, and thought it was all very cool seeing all the level geometry and non-clearing graphics smearing across the screen. Probably contributed to my interest in computers and cybersecurity, ironically, no matter how much my teachers said it was a waste of time...
My best memory is getting a copy shortly after CD-ROM drives were still new territory. I loaded the disc and the first thing I searched for was either rap or hip/hop. To my delight an audio clip played of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message...keep in mind this was at a time when Multimedia was new and the idea that CD-ROMs could hold enough data to make a richer experience was ground-breaking!
Will never forget the awesome splash screen with various historic photos and the video clip with clouds(?), while/after it loaded content from the CD-ROM.
Edit: found it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTOAHlGaDoo
Edit 2: Okay the above was generic but I remember similar bits of it used for Encarta.
Then I encountered the BBC's Domesday Project (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project) and was blown away by the quantity of information that was available on a laser disk in my school library.
Then came Encarta, which similarly impressed, and now Wikipedia.
I can't even contemplate the quantity of information and in what form it will take, when my son reaches my age, but I bet it would blow my contemporary mind.
I generally prefer text - it's easier to search, and faster to consume. But I don't assume that my preferences are always best, so...
Why was Encarta so good? Why is it good enough that we should wish we had it today? Is there some analog today that could let me "get it"? Because currently I live in a world where more and more info is moving to podcasts and videos and I hate it. Clearly I'm missing something, so help me out?
Additionally, consider that much the audience for it was people in grade school. If you were in the seventh grade in 1995, you were the perfect age to really engage with that kind of approach—which seemed awesome compared to a boring textbook.
I think in many ways, our information consumption has gotten much more dense over time. But in 1995, people would approach this like they would a nice, long magazine article. Efficiency was not the goal: It was something that hit all the senses.
Encarta had text. It was mostly text. But sometimes text isn't the best medium for conveying some information. For example, maybe there's an article about lizards. You can describe the way a lizard moves, but it makes much more sense to have a video embedded that can show you what that movement looks like with all of its nuances that would be difficult to describe and understand in text.
So, think of wikipedia, but curated by professional library scientists and verified subject matter experts with first source video and audio clips (and photos) embedded where helpful.
Simply put: It was accessible, interactive and enabled users to find information at a pace that wasn't really achievable through other means.
I first used Encarta when I was in the 6th grade, in order to find information for an essay I was writing. The local library had just gotten a new PC with a CD-ROM drive, and the librarian suggested I use Encarta as it was brand new, while any books they had on the subject would be rather old and outdated.
I got down behind the PC, launched Encarta and I was simply blown away. This was my first real multi-media experience and while computers were becoming mainstream in the early 90's, I simply hadn't seen anything like it before. Sure, an Amiga could play music and simple videos, and a fast 486 could decode MPEG video, but hard drives back then were typically less than 100 MB and the amount of storage allowed by CD-ROM's allowed Encarta to be an (until then) unparalleled experience.
Remember, until then, you'd have to use card indexes in order to find the right book about the subject, then look for the book and hope nobody else had borrowed it. With Encarta, it was as simple as typing in a search term and finding the results. Instantly. Internet wasn't really a thing back then - I'd heard about it, it existed, but it didn't reach the general populace until around '94-'95, and there simply wasn't anything comparable until Wikipedia came along.