UC Berkeley School of Information

Historical Hypermedia: An alternative history of the Semantic Web and Web 2.0 and implications for e-research (Charles van den Heuvel)

Oct. 21, 2010

According to the article on Hypermedia in Wikipedia, Ted Nelson coined the term in 1963 and published it in 1965. The definition in the article states that “hypermedia is used as a logical extension of the term hypertext in which graphics, audio, video, plain text and hyperlinks intertwine to create a generally non-linear medium of information” and the World Wide Web is presented as a classical example. But it can be argued that the characteristics of hypermedia and their use in global collaborations go back much further in time. At the beginning of the 20th century the Belgian pioneer of knowledge organization Paul Otlet (1868–1944) began exploring “substitutes for the book” and to find new technologies to order and to link fragments of texts, images, sound, etc., for scholarly collaborations on a global level. Otlet sketched and commissioned hundreds of drawings of what we would call nowadays interfaces to synthesize global knowledge. It will be argued that Paul Otlet’s views and visualizations on substitutes for the codex book, interfaces, infrastructures and protocols for collective annotating by scholars might be relevant for recent discussions on the provenance and evidence of information in Web 2.0 and Semantic Web solutions for e-research, in particular in the digital humanities.

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