This Day in Tech, Wired (December 9, 2009)
"1944: His dream of a global interlinked 'web' of documents lying in ruins, information-science pioneer Paul Otlet dies.
"The Belgian bibliographer's grand scheme to organize the world's information made him the aspiring Google of his day, but his sprawling card catalog and decimal classification system proved woefully inadequate to the task.
"Some historians see in Otlet's work a prototype of the World Wide Web and the hyperlink. Although unsuccessful, it was one of the first known attempts to provide a framework for connecting all recorded culture by creating flexible links that could rapidly lead researchers from one document to another — and perhaps make audible the previously unheard echoes between them. Anticipating postmodern literary theory, Otlet posited that documents have meaning not as individual texts, but only in relationship to each other.
"Building on the achievements of Carl Linnaeus (father of the simple genus-species classification and inventor of the 3×5 index card) and Melvil Dewey (inventor of the Dewey Decimal System), Otlet developed what some regard as the first faceted classification system...."
The Belgian government funded Otlet's work, allowing him to put tons of documents and 15,000,000 index cards in a building he called "The Mundaneum." Then Nazi Germany invaded Belgium and destroyed most of his work. Otlet died four years later, in Paris.
This Wired article is a pretty good overview of the relatively unknown achievements of someone who anticipated a great deal of the theory under the Web. Hats off to Paul Otlet: a man who didn't quite invent the World Wide Web, in the 1930s. Considering that he was working with index cards and telegraph machines, not hard drives and integrated circuits, he did a pretty good job.
- "The Web Time Forgot"
Science, The New York Times (June 17, 2008)