Encarta goes wiki

I find this both astonishing and inevitable: From Corante’s Many2Many blog I learn that Microsoft is stealing a page from Wikipedia. It’s making some of the articles in its Encarta dictionary (which is a very profitable enterprise) open for editing.

What’s astonishing is that this happened so fast. Predictably, some people are crying out that it’s a Wikipedia rip-off. But that’s not really the point. Just because Columbus got to the New World first doesn’t mean nobody else should make the trip. I actually give some credit to Microsoft for having the cojones to jump into this format. For its part, Encyclopedia Britannica (er… Encyclopaedia Britannica) would rather fly into the side of a mountain than admit this is a reasonable practice.

What’s inevitable here is the new process: learning from your readers is the coming thing, and to avoid it solely because of its zany Wikipedia legacy is foolish and ultimately self-destructive. This is the way content is going to work in the future, and I credit Encarta for seeing that coming.

The Times and You

Take a look at this Annotated New York Times. It pulls down the most recent version of the Times and then weaves in blog commentary about each article. The cost of prominently displaying bad writing is going up every day. There’s an old quote that you shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the gallon. That’s true enough when words ride on the backs of inkpots. But these days just about anybody can afford all the electrons they need.

Oil’s end and the Long Emergency

The Rolling Stone recently published an article called The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler in which Kunstler spells out an apocalyptic vision of the coming Great Weaning from Oil. Briefly, he forecasts an Atlas Shrugged sort of societal meltdown. That giving up oil will not be pleasant, I have no doubt, but his Cassandra routine is a little over the top. Still, I feel like the meta-story here is that stories like this are getting more exposure. And there are many indisputable facts about the gravity of the situation throughout the article. For instance,

In March, the Department of Energy released a report that officially acknowledges for the first time that peak oil is for real and states plainly that “the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary.

Fair enough, but Kunstler sags when he predicts the breakdown of government at all levels. He is not sanguine about the Red States:

I’m not optimistic about the Southeast… I think it will be subject to substantial levels of violence as the grievances of the formerly middle class boil over and collide with the delusions of Pentecostal Christian extremism. The latent encoded behavior of Southern culture includes an outsized notion of individualism and the belief that firearms ought to be used in the defense of it. This is a poor recipe for civic cohesion.

Look for a whole new breed of survivalist gear to appear in stores.