Paul Otlet

“UDC’s most innovative and influential feature is its ability to express not just simple subjects but relations between subjects … In UDC, the universe of information (all recorded knowledge) is treated as a coherent system, built of related parts, in contrast to a specialised classification, in which related subjects are treated as subsidiary even though in their own right they may be of major importance.”

Expressing the relationships between subjects and ideas in a “web” is the entire dream of hypertext and hypermedia. The “links” between information under UDC are relational. Organizational structures for information, such as the Dewey Decimal or anything organized in a hierarchy of distinct subjects, moves from being introduced as a general subject and then becomes more specific in a top-down direction through the node. Relational information structures found in UDC or hypertexts, information can be linked across numerous subject “nodes” and users can access information in a nonlinear way. UDC implies that no documents have self-evident, eternal subjects and meanings, but their aboutness is always being defined by new associations and amalgamations. Even subject matter from a long time ago is constantly being redefined by the present, so it seems that faceted organization is more significant than ever.

Learning about Paul Otlet’s contribution to information architecture, I especially loved hearing about his installation of index cards in a sprawling array of cabinets. This sounds bizarre and beautiful to me; Otlet literally was beginning to build a visual/physical analogue of the Internet at the beginning of the 20th century. 

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