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The Web That Wasn't: Forgotten Forebears of the Internet - Alex Wright at UX Brighton 2012

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Published on Dec 9, 2012

Register for UX Brighton 2014: http://uxbrighton.org.uk/2014

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For most of us who work on the Internet, it's almost impossible to imagine a world without Web browsers, URLs and HTTP. But in the years leading up to Tim Berners-Lee's world-changing invention, a few visionary information scientists were exploring alternative systems that often bore little resemblance to the Web as we know it today. While we might tend to think of the Web as a recent historical phenomenon, the heritage of hypertext actually stretches much further back than most of us might imagine, with conceptual roots in the so-called Second Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century.

The modern high-tech industry tends to deprecate earlier technologies. This is hardly surprising, when profits are predicated on a model of planned obsolescence. But if we take a close look at some of these earlier technologies, we can find plenty of provocative concepts that have yet to be fully realised. Some of these ideas may have life in them yet, especially as Internet-based software starts to evolve beyond the browser. Today, designers and developers are exploring all kinds of new interaction models beyond the traditional Web page metaphor: browser-less apps, gestural interfaces, and even mind-reading computers. As we enter this new era, what lessons might we learn from these alternative technological visions?

The presentation focuses on the pioneering work of early information scientists like Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush, and Doug Engelbart, as well as later hypertext pioneers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In this presentation, Alex Wright will explore the heritage of these almost-forgotten systems, in search of promising ideas left by the historical wayside.

Alex Wright is the Director of User Experience and Product Research at The New York Times and the author of Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "a penetrating and highly entertaining meditation on our information age and its historical roots."

Alex has also led research and design projects for IBM, Microsoft, The Long Now Foundation, Harvard University, the Internet Archive, and Yahoo!, among others. His work has won numerous industry awards, including a Webby, Cool Site of the Year, the PRSA Silver Anvil and an American Graphic Design Award. He is currently a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Interaction Design.

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