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[topicmaps] Alex Wright

Alex Wright is keynoting the Topic Maps conference in Oslo. [I’m live blogging, getting things wrong, etc.]

Europe has been thinking about organizing information for a long, long time, he says. He goes basck to Thomas Aquinas who thought the two pillars of memory: Association and order. He likens “memory palaces” to topic maps. [Hmm. The associations weren’t topical, as I understand them.] He fast-forwards to Charles Cutter who invented a book cataloging system and foresaw in 1883 the day when clicking on a reference would retrieve the object. [Cutter numbers are routinely added to Dewey Decimal numbers in library catalogs.] H.G. Wells in 1938 foresaw an infrastructure for sharing info electronically. Teilhard de Chardin wrote about the “noosphere.” [It’s been a long time since I read him, but I recall the noosphere as a spiritual realm, not a tech realm. I could be entirely wrong.]

Alex points especialy to Paul Otlet, a Belgian who thought libraries were too fixed on books. Rather, we should be thinking about the structure of information within and across books. There’d be an underlying classification scheme, represented in index cards, pointing to books. He tried to actually build this, starting in 1921. He invented the “Uniersal Decimal Classification” scheme. The UDC was designed to classify the info inside of book. Auxiliary Tables marked relationships between topics, i.e., typed links. [The Web only succeeded because it let the typing of links be accomplished by the words around it.] He also had the idea of a social space around information.

Alex visited the Mundaneum — an Otlet museum — a few days ago and shows photos. Very cool. They’ve only managed to catalog a tenth of the collection in the past ten years.[Pretty good argument against Otlet’s idea. It doesn’t scale.] He shows pictographic representatives showing how info can be remixed and browsed.

Alex points to facetag, an Italian project that uses faceted classification that are established at the toplevel. Within that, users assign their own tags. Also vote-links puts meaning into hyperlinks.

Next Alex turns to Vannevar Bush and “How We May Think,” the essay that proposed the memex. In some ways, it was more sophisticated than the Web, he says. E.g., whe you made a link, it was visible in both directions. And the trails should be public so there could be collective intelligence.

Eugene Garfield was inspired by Bush and founded the Science Citation Index, which ranked citations. Doug Engelbart was also inspired by Bush. (He recommends Englebart’s “mother of all demos” demo, which is indeed truly amazing.) Engelbart was concerned with tools for group colaboration, process hierarchies, and multi-level nesting of organizational knowledge. He points quickly also to Xero PARC’s “note cards,” Apple’s Hypercards, Ted Nelson, Andries van Dam, and others. When the Web became dominant, Alex says, a lot of promising prior research dried up, which is a shame.

Thje Web that wasn’t” Tying top-down taxomonies with bottom up social space; two say linking; visible pathways; typed associations…

[Terrific talk. Great to hear some history. [Tags: ]

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