Forefathers

Alex has written a fascinating article for Boxes&Arrows about a possible forefather of the web who predates Vannevar Bush:

“With the faceted philosophy of the UDC as backdrop, the Traité posited a universal “law of organization” declaring that no document could be properly understood by itself, but that its meaning becomes clarified through its influence on other documents, and vice versa. “[A]ll bibliological creation,” he said, “no matter how original and how powerful, implies redistribution, combination and new amalgamations.”

While that sentiment may sound postmodernist in spirit, Otlet was no semiotician; rather, he simply believed that documents could best be understood as three-dimensional, with the third dimension being their social context: their relationship to place, time, language, other readers, writers and topics. Otlet believed in the possibility of empirical truth, or what he called “facticity”—a property that emerged over time, through the ongoing collaboration between readers and writers. In Otlet’s world, each user would leave an imprint, a trail, which would then become part of the explicit history of each document.

Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson would later voice strikingly similar ideas about the notion of associative “trails” between documents. Distinguishing Otlet’s vision from the Bush-Nelson (and Berners-Lee) model is the conviction—long since fallen out of favor—in the possibility of a universal subject classification working in concert with the mutable social forces of scholarship.

Otlet’s vision suggests an intellectual cosmos illuminated both by objective classification and by the direct influence of readers and writers: a system simultaneously ordered and self-organizing, and endlessly re-configurable by the individual reader or writer.”

In other news from the ’eminence-grise’ desk, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn are visiting London and heading for the RIBA for an event called: “Vint Cerf & Bob Kahn Meet the BBC”.

An apt venue, as all these Net-forefathers (Otlet included) look like The Architect.

» Boxes and Arrows: Forgotten Forefather: Paul Otlet

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