Some of us may be starting to feel that way about the Internet. As a handful of corporations continue to consolidate their grip over the network, the optimism of the early indie Web has given way to a much-chronicled backlash. But what if it all had turned out differently? In 1934, a little-known Belgian bibliographer named Paul Otlet published his plans for the Mundaneum, a global network that would allow anyone in the world to tap into a vast repository of published information with a device that could send and receive text, display photographs, transcribe speech and auto-translate between languages.
Otlet even imagined social networking-like features that would allow anyone to “participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.” Once the Mundaneum took shape, he predicted, “anyone in his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, in whole or in certain of its parts.” Conceived in the pre-digital era, Otlet’s scheme relied on a crazy quilt of analog technologies like microfilm, telegraph lines, radio transmitters and typewritten index cards.
Nonetheless, it anticipated the emergence of a hyperlinked information environment — more than half a century before Tim Berners-Lee released the first Web browser. Despite Otlet’s remarkable foresight, he remains largely forgotten outside of rarefied academic circles. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940, they destroyed much of his work, helping ensure his descent into historical obscurity (although the Mundaneum museum in Belgium is making great strides toward restoring his legacy). Most of his writing has never been translated into English. ( By Alex Wright from Salon.com )