09 October 2005

The forgotten father of the database

"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 desk shaped like a wheel, 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 3x5 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.”

Read on in Boxes and Arrows: Forgotten Forefather: Paul Otlet

Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.


thambi said...

You havent declared the winner of the Man+Woman+Empty Balloon contest

dave said...

The judges are voting as we speak.