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The Evolution of Imagining the Internet

The research initiative was inspired by a suggestion from Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, during a visit to Elon University in 2000. He spoke then with faculty members Janna Quitney Anderson and Dr. Constance Ledoux Book about his idea to gather a collection of early Internet predictions - this idea was inspired by Ithiel de Sola Pool's research work "Forecasting the Telephone." Imagining the Internet has grown from there to include much more, including journalistic documentation of major policy events and conferences and the foremost collection of video documenting people's hopes and fears for the future of the Internet.

Following is a year-by-year breakdown of Imagining the Internet's development.

  1. Survey planning and recruiting was undertaken for the Pew- and Elon-funded project "One Neighborhood, One Week on the Internet." The daily Internet use of 24 families in a small-town neighborhood in Elon, NC, was documented by a team of 25 undergraduate student researchers led by Janna Anderson over the span of one week in January 2001. Key undergraduate student research assistants were Erica Stanley, Betsy Snavely and Crystal Allen. The work was also documented in a full page of news stories in USA Today: "24,000 Minutes on the Internet."

  2. Connie Book undertook a small preliminary study funded by the Pew Internet Project, seeking "future of the Internet" predictions made between 1993 and 1995 in the Lexis-Nexis database, assisted by Elon undergraduates Tiffany Avery, Shannon Bonnezi, Allison Dieboldt, Eric Kastendike, Kristen Kerr, Jessica Rivelli, Brian Sentman, Betsy Snavely, Erica Stanley, Elizabeth Sudduth, Maggie Sullivan and Kate Wodyka. The ensuing 2002 research report, an analysis of several hundred predictive statements, established the following major themes: The Internet will transform society; it will transform economies; content will drive the Internet's success; the Internet presents security and privacy concerns; the Internet's growth is dependent on an efficient and reliable infrastructure; the Internet will spawn a new generation of hardware and software; it will create a smaller world; it will transform America's schools; it will impact professions. The interesting results found in this work made it evident that the predictions research should be expanded upon.

  3. Janna Anderson began directing the project, using Book's small study as the base from which to launch a major research initiative aimed at assembling a large, thorough, public database of thousands of the reported mainstream predictions made between 1990 and 1995 about the potential future of the Internet. The "Early 1990s Internet Predictions Database," funded by Pew Internet and involving nearly 70 undergraduate student researchers working under Anderson's direction with the assistance of Dr. Harlen Makemson, sought out predictive statements made by Internet stakeholders and skeptics. These were mined through searches of books of the time, Internet sites, magazines, speeches, research presentations and newspaper articles. (None of the predictions logged in Book's initial study were slotted into this online database; it was modeled to implement a more detailed method of searching, identifying, mining and sorting the data.) To see a retro page from the early days of the predictions database, the precursor to today's Imagining the Internet, go to http://www.elon.edu/predictions/aboutresearchers.aspx

  4. Upon the completion of the Early 1990s Predictions Database, further development of the Imagining the Internet site continued under Janna Anderson's direction. Lee Rainie was inspired by a suggestion from futurist Bruce Sterling to fund the first of what became a series of Web-based "Future of the Internet" surveys in which experts shared their views on the potential future of the Internet. In 2004 and biennally to follow, experts quoted in the early 1990s database and many other technology stakeholders and skeptics have been sent an email invitation to participate in the "Future of the Internet" surveys. The results are published in the Surveys section on this site and they are also available on the Pew Internet site. In addition, the Voices of the People section of the site, started in the fall of 2004, is a constantly evolving, open invitation to everyone in the public to share their thoughts about the future of networked communications. It includes more than a thousand predictions from every corner of the earth, and it is one of the most fascinating facets of Imagining the Internet. See the first survey, as originally posted, here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/expertsurveys/2004survey.xhtml

  5. Janna Anderson's history book based on the initial collection of "Early '90s" predictions, "Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspectives," was published by Rowman & Littlefield. The Imagining the Internet site was redesigned to add extra layers of information, expanding beyond the initial projects. In 2005-06, Elon University began funding Elon student-faculty teams' attendance at global Internet events to capture video interviews and documentary multimedia journalism for the Imagining the Internet Center. Anderson, student Scott Myrick and Elon staff member Bryan Baker recorded interviews with participants at the Accelerating Change conference in Palo Alto, CA, in 2005. Anderson also led interview expeditions to the Metaverse Roadmap Summit (at SRI in Menlo Park, CA, joined by Dan Anderson) and the first-ever Global Internet Governance Forum in Athens in 2006 (with student Erin Barnett and Baker). At the suggestion of Elon communications students, additional sections were added to the website in 2006 to: educate children under age 12 - KidZone; help teachers of elementary, middle and high school students use the site - Teachers' Tips; and provide perspective in narrative form about the past and the future - Forward 150/Back 150.

  6. Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie published their second "Future of the Internet" survey. Day-by-day video and written coverage of the second Global Internet Governance Forum-2007 in Rio de Janeiro, was captured by a documentary team of Elon faculty, staff and students that included Connie Book, Dan Anderson, J McMerty, Eryn Gradwell, Dannika Lewis, Michele Hammerbacher and Anne Nicholson. Elon undergraduate student Erin Barnett edited together a compilation of interviews from IGF-Athens to complete the documentary film "Bridging the Digital Divide." The film was selected for presentation at IGF-Rio, the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), since then, Elon students have presented Imagining the Internet's research at NCUR annually.

  7. Elon University formally established the nonprofit Imagining the Internet Center, based in the School of Communications. An Imagining the Internet team including Dr. Glenn Scott and undergraduate students Ashley Barnas and Craig Campbell edited and posted four hours of video interviews with 31 global leaders recorded at the OECD's Future of the Internet Economy conference in Seoul, Korea in 2008. A book-length version of Anderson and Rainies' first predictions survey was published by Cambria Press, "Up for Grabs: The Future of the Internet I." In addition, the results of an Elon-Pew 2007 IGF-Rio Internet Policy survey "Realizing the Global Promise of the Internet: The Future of Internet Governance," were assessed and a report by Book and Janna Anderson was posted on the site. The results of the third "Future of the Internet" survey conducted by Anderson and Rainie were published on the site in December 2008. More than 100 video clips featuring the web coverage of the third UN-facilitated Global Internet Governance Forum-2008 in Hyderabad, India, were posted on the site, along with PDFs of the IGF 2008 transcripts.

  8. Cambria's book-length version of Anderson and Rainies' second expert-predictions survey, "Hopes and Fears: The Future of the Internet II," was released in January 2009, and the book version of their third survey, "Ubiquity, Mobility, Security: The Future of the Internet III," was published by Cambria in July. Janna Anderson joined the steering committee of IGF-USA and began sending teams to document its meetings. Colin Donohue and Anderson lead a group of students and faculty participating in the planning of the 2009 and 2010  Internet Governance Forum-USA conferences and carrying out full documentary coverage, with written and video accounts added to this site. Elon students Randy Gyllenhaal, Alex Trice, Kirsten Bennett and Morgan Little participated in panels at the events. In addition, another documentary team collected hundreds of video clips while completing a survey and providing written journalistic coverage of the fourth Global Internet Governance Forum-2009 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November of 2009; Anderson participated in the panel on "Transnationalization of the Internet," student Eugene Daniel participated in the "Youth Panel" and the documentary team also included Dan Anderson,  Drew Smith, Andy Diemer and Shelley Russell. In a massive student-faculty project in April 2010, Imagining the Internet planned and carried out FutureWeb, a multi-day, multi-event conference held in conjunction with the Global WWW2010 conference in Raleigh, NC, USA, April 28-30; that team added documentation of FutureWeb events to this site; among the speakers were Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, danah boyd, Danny Weitzner, Carl Malamud and Doc Searls. (To see a full list of student participants, see: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/imagining/about/sites-builders.xhtml.) The results of the fourth "Future of the Internet" survey conducted by Anderson and Rainie were revealed in six reports between February and July 2010, including presentations at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and at the World Futures Conference. A documentary journalism team led by Dr. Glenn Scott and including student reporters Bennett, Smith and Samantha Baranowski conducted dozens of interviews and participated in panels at the Global Internet Governance Forum-2010 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Anderson posted roughly 400 video clips and photos from the events of IGF-2010, including a video survey of delegates.

  9. The Imagining the Internet Center was named a Computerworld Honors Program Laureate for its use of information technology to promote positive social, economic and educational change. In 2011 Anderson produced and presented a 10-minute video on the future of the Internet at the Danish Top Executives Summit in Copenhagen; co-led a session on the future of the Internet at the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, with Paul Jones of UNC-Chapel Hill; delivered a keynote at Webcom 10 in Montreal; and was a keynote speaker at MobilityShifts, a conference on the future of learning hosted by The New School in New York City. Cambria's book-length version of Anderson and Rainies' fourth expert-predictions survey, "Challenges and Opportunities: The Future of the Internet IV," was published in early 2011. A team of 26 people from Imagining the Internet recorded the events of the Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011, and a team of 23 people recorded all of the details of 16 2012 IGF-USA events. Both IGF-USA conferences took place in Washington, D.C. In the fall of 2011, a documentary video team including Baranowski, Nicole Chadwick, Kellye Coleman, Taylor Foshee and Lee Hopcraft, led by Dr. Rich Landesberg, conducted a video survey at the Global Internet Governance Forum-2011 in Nairobi, Kenya. More than 400 video clips were assembled from the survey conducted in Kenya by this team. Eight significant Elon University/Pew Internet reports stemming from the fifth "Future of the Internet" survey conducted by Anderson and Rainie were published in 2012 by the Pew Research Center and the Imagining the Internet Center. The Internet Society provided generous funding support for Anderson to train and lead a team of 10 in conducting multimedia documentary coverage of the Global INET 2012 conference in Geneva, Switzerland, April 22-24, ISOC's 20th Anniversary Conference, which also featured the inaugural Internet Hall of Fame Ceremony - Rachel Southmayd, Addie Haney, Rebecca Smith, Caitlin O'Donnell, Brandon Marshall, Jacquie Adams, Jeff Flitter, Nicole Chadwick, Brian Meyer and Dan Anderson. Also in 2012: Elon alum Aaron Moger created a video telling the story of Imagining the Internet and its work.

  10. The sixth "Future of the Internet" survey is being published in eight separate reports in 2014. The book version of the fifth "Future of the Internet" survey, "Battle for Control: The Future of the Internet V," was published by Cambria Press. Since the projects of Imagining the Internet began in 2000, the center has had four website redesigns, the fourth redesign - unveiled in 2013 - was a group effort led by Rebecca Bass, Janna Anderson and Dan Anderson. A documentary video team from Imagining the Internet including Julie Morse, Joe Bruno, Brian Mezerski and Ryan Greene, led by Professor Brian Walsh, conducted survey interviews of the delegates to the World Technology Policy Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society. Both events were facilitated by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2013. A team including Shakori Fletcher, Katie Blunt, Jeff Ackermann, Alex Rose and Ryan Greene, led by Dr. Naeemah Clark and video producer Aaron Moger conducted long-form interviews with Internet leaders at the 87th meeting of the IETF and the 2013 Internet Hall of Fame Induction in Berlin. Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie are releasing a series of eight reports based on thousands of responses to the sixth Future of the Internet survey. A team including Mia Watkins, Sky Cowans, Brian Mezerski, Addie Haney and Jason Puckett, led by Dr. Anthony Hatcher and Moger conducted interviews with Internet leaders at the 2014 Internet Hall of Fame Induction in Hong Kong.