The Web

The First Web of Information

Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer, peace activist, and information science pioneer, with colleague Henri La Fontaine, in 1904 created the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) system based on the American Dewey Decimal cataloging system.1 Otlet actively promoted the adoption of the UDC in Europe by cataloging more than bibliographic information about books and articles; he sought to expand the UDC system to include other media such as photographs, drawings, and films. It was fundamentally a paper-based system of index cards that contained information on the 14 million multimedia items classified and accessed using the UDC. This system was unique in that its cross-index was an analog precursor of the hypertext links found in websites today.2 In 1934, he had a radical idea for improving public access to this information. He proposed building an electronic system that he called an “International Network for Universal Documentation” that would allow a user “in his armchair to be able to contemplate the whole of creation.”3 He created a system where users could telegraph or telephone a library where archivists would look up the requested information and then reply to the client electronically. Named the Mundaneum by Otlet, the library represented one of the first practical electronic client-host information accession systems, even if the information ...

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