avatar image

Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
  • Thursday June 13, 2024, 10:22 pm
  • Proudly celebrating 15+ years online.
  • Donate now to become a lifetime supporting member of the site and get a non-expiring license key for all of our programs.
  • donate

Author Topic: The Secret History of Hypertext?  (Read 2287 times)


  • Supporting Member
  • Joined in 2007
  • **
  • Posts: 11,858
    • View Profile
    • Donate to Member
The Secret History of Hypertext?
« on: May 30, 2014, 09:22 PM »
Interesting article over at The Atlantic website about a relatively unknown visionary by the name of Paul Otlet.

From the article:

In the years leading up to World War II, a number of European thinkers were exploring markedly similar ideas about information storage and retrieval, and even imagining the possibility of a global network—a feature notably absent from the Memex. Yet their contributions have remained largely overlooked in the conventional, Anglo-American history of computing.

Chief among them was Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur who, in 1934, laid out a plan for a global network of “electric telescopes” that would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films.

Like Bush, Otlet explored the possibilities of storing data on microfilm and making it searchable, with a web of documents connected via a sophisticated linking system. Otlet also wrote about wireless networks, speech recognition, and social network-like features that would allow individuals to “participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.” He even described a mechanism for transmitting taste and smell.

That vision evolved over the course of nearly half a century of experimentation. In 1895, Otlet and his partner Henri La Fontaine—a Belgian senator and future Nobel Peace Prize Winner—launched a project called the Universal Bibliography, or Répertoire Bibliographique Universel, an ambitious plan to catalog of all the world’s published information.

Although I wouldn't go so far as to conclude* Otlet's work was an direct forerunner of hypertext or the web, it's interesting to see the convergence of thinking and concepts that seem to point (with benefit of 20-20 hindsight) to the info-ecosystem we enjoy (or suffer under) today.

Fun read. Check it out here.


*Note: One problem with playing James Burke's Connections game is that it invites erroneous attributions of causality and influence. Not a serious problem (this is an intellectual parlour game after all) - but one to be aware of. Because on a certain level, anything can be made to look it's leading up to virtually anything else, provided you're clever and imaginative enough forge the links between.