The following text is copyright 2006 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.


What the Internet is and what some thought it would be


By Scott Bradner


The folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project have been at it again.  Within the last month they have released 2 short reports and a one long one -- all quite interesting.  But the most interesting might just be a collection of decade old predictions of where we were going to be today & tomorrow.


I've written about the Pew Project ( in the past. ('Net as a political tool, almost a joke - and The Internet as us -  This project has been one of the best sources of information on who uses the Internet and what people have thought about the 'Net over the last few years. 


 The first short report ( documents the growing number of people who are using the Internet as a way to get information about political campaigns.  On an average day in August 26 million Americans, 13% of all Americans over the voting age of 18, used the 'Net to get such information.  Considering how few US "voters" actually vote in off-year elections (42% in 2002) this could represent quite a significant percentage of actual voters. 


The second short report ( struggled mightily to define just what "Web 2.0" actually means.  It came up short, not because the report was faulty, but because there is no crisp definition.  This report did note that the majority of Internet users sent or read email on a typical day in December 2005, more than used IM, blogging and shopping combined.  Seems like the old uses do not die as new ones come along.


The big report ( is the second in their surveys of Internet savvy folk on what they think is coming down the pike.  The survey asked people to agree or disagree with possible scenarios for the Internet in 2020.  Most of the respondents were split roughly evenly (the most extreme split was 58% who thought that future Luddites will commit anti-Internet terror acts vs. 35% who thought not).  The differences do not seem strong enough to me to draw much in the way of conclusions.  There were stronger conclusions in a second set of questions on where development priorities should be set.  There was much more support for building out network infrastructure and knowledge and for creating a legal environment that ensures open use of the net and software than there was for creating a micropayment system or an international security watchdog organization.  The overall report is a good read even if some of the answers are ambiguous.


Tucked away at the end of the summary of findings in the survey report is the part I found most interesting.  It was in the form of a pointer ( to a collection of predictions made about the future of the Internet in the early 1990's.  Even though they do not include any of my predictions (many at if they want to correct that oversight) there are some very interesting things - search ( for the keyword "encryption" for an example.  This is great stuff.  It is very instructive to look back on the predictions of experts in times of technology change to teach one to not trust experts (come to think of it, maybe they should not add any of my predictions after all.) 


disclaimer: In 370 years people at Harvard have expressed at least a zillion opinions and predictions, some of which might also have been called Harvard's opinions, but not this one since its just mine.