Before there was the World Wide Web there was Vannevar Bush's Memex, and before there was the Internet there was the telegraph, a.k.a. the Victorian Internet. Now on the tenth anniversary of the reopening of the Mundaneum, the Belgian lawyers and inventors Paul Otlet and Henri LaFontaine are getting their due for their introduction in 1910 of their "universal catalog of knowledge." Occupying 150 rooms in the Palais Mondial, they attempted to index every book ever published and went "multimedia" with magazine articles, photographs, posters and the like.
The staff serviced more than 1,500 inquiries a year from all over the world (at 27 Francs per 1,000 index cards) inspiring Otlet to propose a system for mechanically storing information and transmitting it to researchers over an "electronic telescope." He also coined the term "link" to describe the connections among documents which he envisioned being connected in a réseau, or network.
The Mundaneum fell on hard times when Belgium lost its bid to become the headquarters of the League of Nations and later was invaded by the Nazis, but has been reconstituted as a museum and has a staff that will perform research in response to an online form.
- BBC Guide - The Mundaneum - a Universal Catalogue of All the World's Knowledge
- New York Times - The Web Time Forgot