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Touting their new interactive geographic product as the "atlas of the future," the creators of Microsoft's Encarta 96 World Atlas have incorporated 120 "Culturgrams" created by Brigham Young University.

"These Culturgrams are the best introduction Americans have to many foreign countries," said Nancy Dixon, managing editor of the Geography Reference Product Unit at Microsoft. "When we wanted to show the world beyond maps for this atlas, we thought of the Culturgrams."First published by BYU in the late 1970s, Culturgrams began as a way to build more effective bridges of understanding and friendship with people all over the world, said Grant Skabelund, managing editor at the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. Each Culturgram contains information on the daily customs and lifestyle of a society, as well as its political and economic structure.

"They are particularly useful because they put so much emphasis on the unique values, customs and cultural assumptions of the people they are describing," said Skabelund. "You can find the population statistics or the square mileage of a country from many other standard sources, but the `people maps' are much more difficult to locate."

Robert Lindsey of Microsoft contacted Skabelund in the spring of 1993. At the time, he talked about a world atlas on CD-ROM that would navigate the planet by exploring a 3-D globe. Not only could users go anywhere on the globe with the touch of a mouse, they could also meet the world's peoples - in part, through BYU's Culturgrams.

"Before we ever started this project, we conducted a survey to find out what people really wanted in an atlas," said Dixon. "Over and over, the respondents said that they wanted to know how other people live." BYU's Culturgrams seemed a natural resource, he said.

Microsoft purchased the complete set of 1993 Culturgrams. The company has and will continue to purchase new Culturgrams as they are written to include in updated versions of the CD-ROM atlas, the first edition of which will appear on store shelves this November.

Last year, BYU distributed almost 1 million Culturgrams. Skabelund said his office routinely receives calls from government and business entities.

For more information about the Culturgrams, call 378-6528 or 1-800-528-6279.