Literature/1994/Rayward

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Rayward, W. Boyd (1994). "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45(4): 235-250.

Authors[edit]

  • University of New South Wales

Abstract[edit]

The work of the Belgian internationalist and documentalist, Paul Otlet (1868–1944), and his colleagues in Brussels, forms an important and neglected part of the history of information science. They developed a complex of organizations that are similar in important respects functionally to contemporary hypertext/hypermedia systems. These organizations effectively provided for the integration of bibliographic, image, and textual databases. Chunks of text on cards or separate sheets were created according to "the monographic principle" and their physical organization managed by the Universal Decimal Classification, created by the Belgians from Melvil Dewey's Decimal Classification. This article, discusses Otlet's concept of the Office of Documentation and, as examples of an approach to actual hypertext systems, several special Offices of Documentation set up in the International Office of Bibliography. In his Traité de Documentation of 1934, one of the first systematic treatises on what today we would call information science, Otlet speculated imaginatively about telecommunications, text-voice conversion, and what is needed in computer workstations, though of course he does not use this terminology. By assessing how the intellectual paradigm of nineteenth century positivism shaped Otlet's thinking, this study suggests how, despite its apparent contemporaneity, what he proposed was in fact conceptually different from the hypertext systems that have been developed or speculated about today. Such as analysis paradoxically also suggests the irony that a "deconstructionist" reading of accounts of these systems might find embedded in them the positivist approach to knowledge that the system designers would seem on the face of it explicitly to have repudiated.

Excerpts[edit]

  • The development of Hypertext/hypermedia systems has generated great interest in the last decade. [c 1] ... Most of those who discuss Hypertext/hypermedia systems see the new functionality ... as originating conceptually in Vannevar Bush's ... "memex."
  • It will be seen that he is a precursor of Bush (1945), Englebart (1963), Nelson (1983, 1987) and others who have set the hypertext/hypermedia agenda in recent years and that he anticipated many of the features of memex, hypertext and Xanadu.

Wikimedia[edit]

Chronology[edit]

  • Rayward, W. Boyd, ed. (2008). European Modernism and the Information Society: Informing the Present, Understanding the Past. Ashgate Publishing. [^]
  • Rayward, W. Boyd (1999). "H.G. Wells's Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Reassessment," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(7): 557-573. [^]
  • Rayward, W. Boyd (1994). "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45(4): 235-250. [^]
  • Rayward, W. Boyd (1992). "Restructuring and Mobilising Information in Documents: A Historical Perspective." In: Vakkari, P. and B. Cronin, eds. Conceptions of Library and Information Science: Historical, Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives. London: Taylor Graham. (pp. 50-68)
  • Buckland, Michael (1992). "Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex." Journal of the American Society for Information Science, vol. 43, no. 4 (May 1992), pp. 284-294. [^]
  • Rayward, W. Boyd (1975). The Universe of Information: The Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and International Organisation. (FID 520). Moscow: VINITI (for FID). [^]

Comments[edit]

The author may not know why they suddenly started revisiting Bush (1945) after three decades, even though Rayward (1975) may have been timely and purposeful to cover up Wells (1938). It was not only Wells who mattered at the moment but also Bernal (1939) and perhaps more vitally Ogden (1923), all in concert in context, in a way, say, the greatest use of information for the greatest happiness.

Simply, they started revolving around synthesizing and sense-making or making the implicit (meaning) explicit, e.g., metaphor, implicature, indexical, etc., by virtue of the whole context as an intricate web. Hence, the analytico-synthetic web of hypertexts as well! Fillmore (1976) argues that the dictionary alone is not so enough for sense-making as to need to be coupled with the encyclopedia. Soergel (1977) at University of Maryland already argues for the digital encyclopedia aiming for information retrieval, no doubt, by virtue of many hyperlinks. Shneiderman (1983) there developed The Interactive Encyclopedia System (TIES), practically the first of the kind. His students followed. One of them co-founded Google.

It is more often than not in academia for partisans to replace or cover up the practical influence with the earlier or someone else of little or no use. Librarians are textualists by profession, who would better not claim his practical influence on Anglophones without his English translations, to be careful, as if he had been more influential than Wells of all popularity. Similar is the case with Bush's 8-page essay. Encyclopedism, micrography and the like had long remained a popular agenda back then. Anyone's claim for novelty would sound greedy.

  1. It was almost two decades ago or around 1975 that they took the hypertext seriously. See more above

Notes[edit]

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Gradient-optical-illusion.svg
The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."