Sunday, January 27, 2008

Web precursor


The Kircher Society reports: [edited]

In 1934, years before Vannevar Bush dreamed of the Memex, decades before Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext,” Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholar’s workstation: a moving, wheel-shaped desk, powered by a network of hinged spokes beneath a series of moving surfaces. The machine would let users search, read and write their way through a vast mechanical database stored on millions of 3"×5" index cards.

This new research environment would do more than just let users retrieve documents; it would also let them annotate the relationships between one another, "the connections each [document] has with all other [documents], forming from them what might be called the Universal Book."

Otlet imagined a day when users would access the database from great distances by means of an “electric telescope” connected through a telephone line, retrieving a facsimile image to be projected remotely on a flat screen.

In Otlet’s time, this notion of networked documents was still so novel that no one had a word to describe these relationships, until he invented one: “links.”

Otlet envisioned the whole endeavor as a great “rĂ©seau” - web - of human knowledge.
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