The Lost Art of the CD-ROM

By Deane Barker

I was reading today about how Wikipedia is going to release a CD or DVD of all its content. Very cool idea.

This got me reminiscing about “The Golden Age of CD-ROMs.” Remember when CD-ROMs were the big thing? From, say, 1996 to 1999 or 2000. Remember when Encarta and Cinemania amazed you with the depth of their content?

I remember Encarta 95. Man, that was amazing. Pictures, video, a little trivia game – I had a double-speed CD-ROM drive, and could get lost in Encarta for hours. I remember too that it had an update feature, where you could dial-up to the Internet and it would download new versions of articles that needed to change. The first one to update was the article on Yitzhak Rabin after he got assassinated. I was blown away.

And Cinemania – that was a really great product too. Thousands of reviews from Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin, video clips, star biographies – I could blow an afternoon just exploring. Cinemania was what got me hooked on Roger Ebert. (I still read him religiously, and he’s emailed me twice. Once in response to this post over on my personal blog.)

And “The Ultimate James Bond” CD-ROM was heroin for me at the time. I reviewed it nine years ago for Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was the first writing I did for that site. The review (and the CD-ROM screenshots – first time I had ever screencapped anything) still hold up today. That was a great, great product. Did anyone else have this?

When I worked at Best Buy for eight months in 1998, DVD-ROM drives were just coming out. I remember thinking that I had to have one, because then I could browse Encarta without having to switch CDs. I wanted a DVD-ROM drive for four or five years because of this, but could never justify it. When I finally bought a machine that had one…it was kind of anti-climactic, because I was already hooked on Wikipedia.

But whatever happened to the CD-ROM? The Internet killed them. You just don’t see them anymore. Now we have the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia, so there’s no need for Cinemania or Encarta.

If you get the urge to publish a CD-ROM, you may as well just put it in a password protected Web site – you get continuing membership fees, better tracking, and you can keep it updated.

The CD-ROM is truly a lost art. It’s too bad because I firmly believe that you get more involved with reading offline than online. See this post – when you’re online, more content is just a click away. When you’re offline – like when you were browsing a CD-ROM – you have a tendency to get into the reading more and with greater comprehension.

I miss CD-ROMs.

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