Abstract- Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss

Paul Otlet’s impact on visual knowledge building in current developments of Web 2.0

This paper seeks to illuminate how some of the essentials in Paul Otlet’s concept of a global and interconnected data and knowledge space by means of participatory media strikingly left its traces on the eruptive knowledge building approach that has been triggered by Open Source and further been developed by Social Software developments. In his last book 'Monde' (1935) he articulated a final vision of the great 'réseau' that emphasises ubiquitous access to dispersed information and the ability of co-authorship by commenting on existing information sources that should be organised and displayed on each individual screen. Unlike common practice of information and knowledge archiving and distribution at the time, Otlet believed that documents could be best understood in a dynamic system taking into account the spatio-temporal, linguistic, receptive, perceptive, topical and engendering relationship and interdependency – to highlight the social dimension in it.
In this context, the notion of empirical truth, that means the continuing collaboration between readers and writers, would create an explicit thus visible trail on each of the documentary sources. The 'living encyclopedia' Otlet had in mind covered both the objective classification (Universal Decimal Classification - the first of the synthetic classification schemes) and a self-organising and modifiable system driven by its users. If we do not only consider his visions of the 'Encyclopedia Universalis Mundane' to which adheres several drawings and sketches in which Otlet imagined an interactive multi-media machine, but also his attempt to combine scientific taxonomy and a pre-stage of 'folksonomy', it becomes clear that he can be considered as one of the forefathers of collaborative authoring such as Wikipedia.