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The internet without the tubes, the world of Paul Otlet
2008-06-17 22:55
by Bob Timmermann

I hope people had a chance to read this fascinating article in Tuesday's New York Times by Alex Wright about Belgian librarian Paul Otlet.

In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “réseau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”

In Mons, Belgium, you can visit a museum dedicated to Otlet's dream institution, called the Mundaneum.

Otlet wanted to put all of the world's knowledge into the most practical and useful storage medium of the era: a 3 X 5 index card! Instead of the free-wheeling internet, we'd have a world dominated by trained library catalogers!

World peace would have ensued.

And since Otlet's dream never came about, what happened? The Nazis destroyed much of his work.


2008-06-17 23:49:04
1.   Greg Brock
Great article, Bob. Poor Paul :-(

Still, he made out better than Hypatia.

2008-06-18 06:05:46
2.   mehmattski
Hey Bob-

Felix Hernandez matched Rich Harden's feat with an Immaculate Inning in the fourth inning versus the Marlins last night:,0,5318684.story

2008-06-18 09:05:41
3.   Daniel Zappala
Amazing story. Thanks, Bob.
2008-06-19 06:21:23
4.   Spaceman Spiff
We spent most of one week talking about Otlet in Information Studies grad school this past fall at UCLA.

It was exciting to see recognition for Paul Otlet in the mainstream media. Thanks for spreading the word, Bob!

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