Stories by Alex Wright

September 11th, 2007

The Encyclopedic Revolution

Book Excerpt

This excerpt from Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages examines the contributions of Denis Diderot to the knowledge of Western societies and how Wikipedia’s rise echoes the rise of his Encyclop├ędie.

In 1934, years before Vannevar Bush dreamed of the memex, decades before Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext,” Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholar’s workstation: a mechanical desk that would let users search, read, and write their way through a vast database stored on millions of 3×5 index cards.

Long before anyone was looking for “godfathers” of information architecture, our fellow species were wrestling with some of the same problems we face today. The real godfathers of information architecture, as it turns out, emerged a very long time ago with the earliest origins of life on this planet.