IA Summit: The Web That Wasn't

by Luke Wroblewski March 23, 2007

Alex Wright’s The Web that Wasn’t presentation at IA Summit 2007 took a trip through the ideas of early Web visionaries to find useful, tactical things we can learn from.

    Could start the history of shared document resources anywhere but will focus on history from a 100 years ago (not spend much time on illuminated manuscripts, etc.)
  • People were thinking about something like the Internet before it ever happened.
  • Charles Cutter: big rival of Dewey that wrote the Buffalo Public Library document which discussed work stations with keyboards that allowed instantaneous access to information.
  • HG Wells: wrote about an electronic brain that distributed intelligence from people’s contributions. This brain would eventually take on the characteristics of an organism.
  • Teilhard de Chardin: discussed the electronic information age within which we would see the emergence of a new planetary consciousness that paves the way for a telecommunications revolution.
  • Paul Otlet: created the Universal Decimal Classification. Wanted to liberate information from the confines of books and built a massive card catalog index that allowed people to ask questions of operators that would field answers. Discussed radiated library & televised books.
  • Otlet’s Universal Decimal System is still in use in Europe and allows for top down category classification and horizontal classification across topics.
  • What would Otlet’s Web look like: marriage of top down & bottom up systems, gradations of links (hyperlinks today do not embed any additional information)
  • Vannevar Bush: wrote “As we may think” in which he described the Memex: a microfilm reader that can access documents and annotate them. The memex was built for an individual scholar not for a network though it has had a lasting influence on many pioneers of the modern World Wide Web.
  • Bush’s key insight was the facility that kept track of pathways each user used. Could create paths and comments between documents. Bush believed in selection by association rather then indexing. Thought users could organize documents better by cataloging their own experiences: organic, bottom-up process.
  • Eugene Garfield: developed the idea of citation ranking. If looking at scientific publication could use citations to create a ranking (influence ranking).
  • Doug Engelbart: credits career to Memex essay. Believed computers should become tools for collaboration in business & academia.
  • What would Engelbart’s Web look like: tools for small group collaboration, process hierarchies (modular framework for building experiences), built in audio/video conferences
  • Xeorx PARC : Alan Kay & collaborators created graphical user interface, notecards (modules of information), invented Ethernet, and more.
  • Ted Nelson: saw the programmer class as exclusive and believed they did not take the humanities seriously. Felt like this was a lost opportunity. Invented the term hypertext along with many others. Tranculsion: embed text from one document to another with real time updates. Collateral hypertext: links shared between a few people.
  • Andries Van Dam: created embedded hypertext on desktop: tools for authoring and editing.
  • Ideas from the Web that wasn’t (not in our current implementation): marrying top-down classification with bottom-up “social space”, two way linking (see where coming from & going to), pathways of users could be visible, different flavors of links, integrated authoring tools, process hierarchies for common tags, and more hypertext capabilities embedded in tools.