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Other relevant Keywords: Neologism, Netosofiia, Thinklinks


InteLnet was one of the most innovative philosophical projects on the early Russian internet. Taking its name from the words for “intellect” and “internet” (which are cognates in English and Russian), InteLnet was founded by philosopher Mikhail Epstein on the Emory University server in July 1995 as “a virtual community devoted to the discussion and promotion of interdisciplinary ideas in the humanities” (Epstein, “InteLnet: Web Projects in the Humanities” 276). Today the portal hosts a collection of projects, ranging from traditional essays to collaborative initiatives in the experimental humanities, including dictionaries of neologisms and idea banks. In February 1998, Epstein moved the Russian pages of InteLnet to Russian Journal (Russkii zhurnal), the first online journal on the .ru domain. After Russian Journal closed in 2015, the Russian pages of InteLnet returned to the Emory server, but with limited navigation, as all the links hosted by the defunct Russian Journal were broken. Since 2024 a version of the site has been hosted by Dickinson College, with most of the site’s navigation restored to its pre-2015 state. At the dawn of the Internet age, InteLnet was “an experimental site for the communication of creative minds and an intellectual response to the challenge of the expanding electronic universe” (Epstein, InteLnet). Epstein’s InteLnet advanced inherited notions about humanities research through online experimentation, including anticipating advances in neural networks that would come some three decades later.

One of the earliest projects on InteLnet was Book of Books (Kniga knig), designed as an encyclopedia of alternative ideas and an anthology of selected texts in the humanities. Epstein compiled the original Book of Books in print between 1984 and 1988, including over 1,600 typed pages. In 1995 he adapted the project for InteLnet as a way of capturing the unrealized non-linear potential of the book through the generative, hypertextual, and collaborative possibilities of the web. In its online form, Book of Books was a collaborative bank of ideas, a “free collection of texts for all forms of philosophical use” (Epstein, “Kak pisalas’ Kniga knig”). Epstein authored all the entries for Book of Books himself and disseminated them as idea “donations” via the web, offering free use of all the ideas to any readers who might want to adopt or develop them for future work, including to make the ideas their own and publish them under their own names. On the Book of Books site, readers could click through a series of disciplinary categories and concepts, both established and newly theorized: “metaphysics” and “culture,” as well as “metapraxis” (metapraktika) and “alphavism” (alfavizm). The plan was that each category would reveal lists of ideas on that topic, ranging from fragments and speculations to well-developed theses. The site’s design encouraged open authorship beyond the model of the information commons; it aimed to stimulate the creation of new “virtual disciplines and praxis,” often in preliminary and speculative forms that would not have been acceptable for publication in even the most pluralistic print journals of the post-Soviet landscape (“Kak pisalas’ Kniga knig”). Likewise, Book of Books challenged ideas of authorship and ownership at a moment when internet content, across the globe, was beginning to earn the same intellectual property protection as print media.

In Russia, the period between 1994 and 2008 was the era of the open internet, bookended by the registration of the .ru domain in April 1994, on the one end, and the formal adoption of the new civil code on copyright and intellectual property in 2008, on the other. During these years, the internet blended the post-Soviet commitment to plurality and free expression with a Soviet-era legal interpretation of freedom of access. Thus, debates over fair use on the early Russian internet were informed by the complex interplay between the new freedoms of post-Soviet capitalism and the norms inherited from Soviet information ethics. Most early philosophy sites operated according to the model of “internet as library,” or the internet as a medium for collecting and hosting human knowledge (See DeBlasio). Early online libraries like Moshkov’s Library (Biblioteka Moshkova), which was not limited to the discipline of philosophy, made texts available to a wide reading public and employed early crowdsourcing methods in the form of volunteer scanners (skanirovshchiki). Epstein concluded that communism would have been invincible had it begun with the [ethos of the early Internet]—in other words, “not from the division of material property nor from the expropriation of land and the implements of production, but from the construction of new communist networks, where thought could pass freely across the barriers of private property” (“Ot Interneta k InteLnetu”). For instance, in the Library of Aphorisms (Biblioteka aforizmov) on the InteLnet portal, authors were encouraged to create and submit their own original aphorisms, thereby stimulating new ideas and potentially leading to further philosophical work. Book of Books shared this vision of information as a public good, designating all its texts and ideas as “open to intellectual appropriation” (Epstein, “Kniga knig”).

While Book of Books shared certain values with early online libraries, it was among the first online philosophy projects on the .ru domain that explicitly transgressed the boundaries of print form, aiming instead at a “multidimensionality of browsable space, light ethereal pathways, carrying you from word to word, from thought to thought” (“Kak pisalas’ Kniga knig”). Even in its original bound version, Book of Books had no page numbers, and was therefore already well suited to the scroll and link structure of the internet. It moved from the collection of human knowledge (internet as library) and the discussion of this knowledge (internet as salon) to the collective formation of new kinds of knowledge and modes of knowing, thereby pushing the discipline beyond its established borders and expanding the possibilities of human thought (Internet as a way of thinking) (DeBlasio). Book of Books capitalized on the new cognitive possibilities of the web for advancing the humanities, where “the speed of electronic connection, adapted from human thought, should have returned to thought, crossing from the technical sphere into the humanities” (Epstein, “Kak pisalas’ Kniga knig”). In practice, however, Book of Books was limited by the fragility of the medium through which it was shared. Updates to the Russian Journal site, and the journal’s eventually closure in 2015, meant that links to entries in Book of Books became unreliable, and even today many of the site’s entries lead to empty pages.

Epstein describes how, when he first connected to the internet in 1995, he “immediately felt that it was a new instrument of consciousness, with much more plasticity than the pen, paper, or book” (“Ot Interneta k InteLnetu”). Book of Books, as well as the larger InteLnet structure, was part of Epstein’s broader investigation into the concept of netosofiia, a neologism he coined to describe electronic communication as both a means of philosophical communication and the new social environment in which that communication takes place. Netosofiia was not an object of philosophical inquiry or a sub-discipline of philosophy, but a “synthesis of the technological possibilities of the Internet and the intellectual pursuits of philosophy” (“Netosofiia”). Networks of linked pages could produce new and unexpected affinities, which Epstein called “thinking by way of the Network” (myslit’ Set’iu) (“Ot Interneta k InteLnetu”). “I wanted to think by way of the Network, to weave with pages—‘to connect, to connect,’ as Tolstoy’s Pierre hears in a dream,” he wrote in 2005 (“Ot Interneta k InteLnetu”). In an interview from 1996, Epstein describes how InteLnet was founded from the desire to re-imagine the methods of “collective improvisation” that he developed with colleagues in Moscow in the 1980s. “Creativity is dialogue with somebody else’s conscience,” he said in the early days of InteLnet (Muhammad 6).

Epstein’s InteLnet was also explicitly framed within the context of the interdisciplinary humanities, and with an eye towards expansive notions of authorship, collaboration, and creativity. In Transcultural Experiments: Russian and American Models of Creative Communication (1999), he describes “intelnetics” as a “new humanist metadiscipline, which would be neither philosophy nor art nor science but which would embrace the totality of various epistemological and disciplinary modes” (46). Essential to this vision was the creation of neologisms and new humanities sub-disciplines: InteLnet and netosofiia, but also myslesviazi (thought connections) and setemudriia (network wisdom). One of the most active sub-sites on the InteLnet portal is Gift of a Word (Dar slova), an online projective dictionary introducing more than 3,000 neologisms since 2000, including 2,700 written by Epstein himself. Similarly, Bank of New Ideas (Bank novykh idei) was “designed to become a kind of patent bureau for those ideas in the humanities that rose above the boundaries of established disciplines and could be relevant for the culture as a whole” (49); “The Bank used as the primary motive of selection the novelty and the originality of the idea and its potential impact on the humanities as a whole, including a requirement that the idea be trans/interdisciplinary (49). Bank of New Ideas accepted and posted 41 online submissions between August 1995 and April 2004, the first of which was Vitaly Kovalev’s entry for “Diasophia,” which Kovalev coined to correspond to the final stage of the Hegel’s Absolute Idea—literally, wisdom that “goes across,” or “transcends” the “ideal” (50). In 1995 the project won the Social Innovations Award in the category of “creativity” from the London Institute for Social Inventions. For both Book of Books and Gift of a Word, the internet is not simply a medium for transmitting philosophical ideas but is integral to the ideas themselves.

Among the most enduring ideas of InteLnet is the premise of its construction: what Epstein called “to think by way of the Network.” This idea recalls Merab Mamardashvili’s method of “to think out loud” (myslit’ vslukh), which was how he described his process of slow, deliberate thought aimed at making consciousness graspable through the process of enacting philosophical reasoning in front of an audience. For Mamardashvili, thinking out loud was our chance to catch consciousness in action. InteLnet was also an act of thinking in action—in this case, the making of human consciousness visible through the physical act of navigating the space of the site. Sometimes this experience was seamless, where links would lead, almost magically, even ethereally, from one idea to the next. And other times, the inevitable missteps and frustrations of the new medium—like the process of thought itself—were built into the structure of InteLnet: the site archived older versions of itself and often included broken links and “this page is under construction” GIFs, thereby landing the visitor in a digital simulacrum of the cognitive state of aporia. Moreover, the English and Russian versions of the site were not mirrors of each other, allowing for different experiences and combinations depending on the language competencies of the visitor. Today, the InteLnet portal comprises 3,200 discrete pages arranged in a complex web of links, allowing the visitor to travel forward, into the future of the humanistic disciplines, and also backwards, to the early years of the internet.

Importantly, even in its earliest iterations, InteLnet anticipated advancements in neural networks some three decades before the public release of generative AI models. Neural networks process the sum total of human knowledge; they assimilate and learn from human data in ways that are inspired by, and currently highly dependent upon, human creative output. Epstein understood that humanistic knowledge will continue to progress beyond its previous forms, always demanding new vehicles for the expression of novel thinking. In its early years, InteLnet gathered and collected human knowledge, but also sought to expand cognitive categories though the creation of original connections, new words, and hybrid humanistic disciplines. Epstein referred to these virtual synapses as “Thinklinks,” or “myslesviazi” in Russian. He writes: “Thinklinks will constitute another dimension of the entire Web, making it intellectually what it is electronically. To use a Hegelian expression,” he continued, “the Internet comes through the InteLnet to its ultimate self-awareness, to the conscious manifestation of its own Idea” (“ThinkLinks”).

The most complete version of the InteLnet portal, with many of the previously broken links restored, can be found here. The original Emory University site remains accessible here. The most detailed account of the history and vision behind InteLnet was published by Mikhail Epstein in Transcultural Experiments: Russian and American Models of Creative Communication (1999).

Alyssa DeBlasio, June 2024



DeBlasio, Alyssa. “Philosophy on the Early Russian Internet: 1994–2008,” Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media 20 (2020): 31–45.

Epstein, Mikhail, Dar slova, InteLnet,

—. InteLnet,

—. “InteLnet: Web Projects in the Humanities,” in Transcultural Experiments: Russian and American Models of Creative Communication, ed. Ellen B. Berry and Mikhail N. Epstein, p. 276–289. NYC: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

—. “Kak pisalas’ Kniga knig,” InteLnet,

—. Kniga knig, InteLnet,

—. “Netosofiia,” InteLnet,

—. “‘Ot Interneta k InteLnetu,” SlovoWord, no. 45 (2005),

—. “ThinkLinks,” InteLnet,

Muhammad, DyShaun, “Epstein uses Internet to create virtual community of scholars,” Emory Report (November 18, 1996), 6.

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