The New York Times has this very good article on early ideas of the world wide web. "The Web Time Forgot" describes the how a Belgian called Paul Otlet tried to index all known knowledge, and realised that this was too hard to do by paper alone. So in 1934 he dreamt up this concept of doing this with "electric telescopes". That is an electric device that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. According to NYT he described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even collaborate or congregate in online social networks.
This proto-Web relied on a patchwork of analog index-card and telegraph machines, but it included an idea of a hyperlinked structure of information.
“This was a Steampunk version of hypertext,” said Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired, who is writing a book about the future of technology.
I personally liked this little nugget.
…Otlet’s version of hypertext held a few important advantages over today’s Web. For one thing, he saw a smarter kind of hyperlink. Whereas links on the Web today serve as a kind of mute bond between documents, Otlet envisioned links that carried meaning by, for example, annotating if particular documents agreed or disagreed with each other.
The article goes one to discuss Semantic Web in a not so nice way. I admit that I don’t agree with the author on that account, but all in all an interesting read.
Please read the original article in The New York Times.