The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog

A fantastic find (via The Long Now Foundation): the Internet Archive is hosting a MacOS System 7 emulator running a copy of The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog. The Catalog is a hypertext version of the venerable Whole Earth Catalog. It was published in 1988, several years before the invention of the World Wide Web.

Opening screen from The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog
A screenshot from The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog

This find is interesting for several reasons. For one thing, the Whole Earth Catalog is culturally significant: many makers and geeks (myself included) cite it as an influence. Even though it first existed in print, the Catalog wasn’t meant to be read linearly: even in book format, you’d skip around to read granular content items organized by subject. (Here’s a PDF scan of the first edition from 1968.) The Catalog was a perfect application for a hypertext before hypertext technology was widely available.

And that’s where another interesting angle comes in: the Electronic Whole Earth Catalog was implemented in Hypercard, a hypertext authoring and navigation system that came bundled with early Macs. Hypercard gave many people (myself included) their first experience of using and creating hypertexts. I learned a lot from this fantastic software, and reference it often with students and clients. Most haven’t heard of Hypercard or seen it, which makes this emulation a treasure.

The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog