Imagining the Internet Project
  Responses in reaction to the following rank-ordering question were assembled from a select group of internet stakeholders in the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. The survey supplied respondents with selected issues and asked that they rank them in order of importance. Respondents were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some - not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are shared below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies', universities', or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers have been edited to share more respondents' replies. This is a selection of the many carefully considered responses.  

descriptionRanking Issues...
Building the world network: If you were in charge of setting priorities about where to spend the available funds for developing information and communications technologies (predominantly the internet) to improve the world, how would you rank-order the following international concerns. Please number these from 1 to 4, with 1 being the highest priority.

(Following are compiled numerical reactions from the 742 respondents. Numbers listed denote the total picking each item as the first priority, a more detailed breakdown of 1-2-3-4 orders is available in the full report.)

51% selected:Building the capacity of the network and passing along technological knowledge to those not currently online. These efforts would focus on extending network infrastructure and tech support that helps people learn how to use it to areas of the world that are not connected. The goal would be to make the internet affordable and accessible for as many people as possible.

32% selected: Creating a legal and operating environment that allows people to use the internet the way they want, using the software they want. These efforts would involve cultivation of universal infrastructure standards, backed by political and legal support, that would allow multiple platforms to work on the internet. The goal would be to discourage the possibility of a hardware or software monoculture.

8% selected:Developing and "arming" an effective international security watchdog organization. This enforcement unit would be given enough authority to help prevent the proliferation of criminal and terrorist acts carried out through the use of ICTs.

8% selected: Establishing an easy-to-use, secure international monetary microcredit system. This option would foster economic advances of all sorts in developing nations. For instance, Dick and Jane in Hoboken, N.J., can use the internet to learn about and help finance Ubu and Kwana's farm in Nigeria.

Below are select written responses from anonymous survey participants. To read reactions from participants who took credit for their written elaborations for this question, please click here.

The hardest to undo are laws passed in haste to regulate the Internet. The other three are works in progress where the market forces have already identified a need.

Access is the most important thing, after you have access, anything else can be solved. Keeping the network open is also important. Financial operations are useful but not absolutely necessary. Cyber-terrorism is over-hyped and can be solved through the existing services. There is no need for yet another bureaucracy.

Security must be the first tack. Without a secure network, the network can't exist.

The toughest challenge will be balancing freedom with security.

Universal literacy would be a good starting place to implement universal information literacy and to pass along technological knowledge.

A framework - technical and legal - must come first.

It's important to get more people on board, making it a number-one priority.

Right now I don't think a world network would work - can't rate

We desperately need to discourage hardware or software monoculture and promote and support open source technologies.

Understanding that the dark side of the Internet will continue to dog the heels of expansion and development, I think we need to build network capacities and tech knowledge everywhere. And people should be able to use the Internet as they want, within established boundaries that protect. As much as I'd like to see a microcredit system, the other developments are more important to humankind.

Fixing some of the problems that we have today will be necessary before we seek to expand the network. A "watchdog" organization will hinder the growth of the internet.

Infrastructure and security first!

Standards and facilitation of economic activity within a secure framework are key to the ultimate future of the internet.

The infrastructure needs to be in place before anything else should be developed and worked on.

It's not "build it and they will come" - we need to teach people not only how to operate $100 PCs but also how information can be used to improve their lives.

People first.

Open standards rule.

The monoculture will be the death of us, the death of the system, just as surely as Monsanto's propagating of sterile seeds will engineer planetary famine. Those with foresight will make it a top priority, because without it, nothing else can exist. The open environment is crucial and must be accessible, just as surely as FDR's Tennessee Valley Authority wired the rural South. Every city should be wireless, and it should be provided as a city utility like water and electricity. The growing power of the telcos to create choke points to regulate the system has to be broken, or else a parallel shadow system that is open must be developed, like the black market that sprang up in the Soviet Union's oppressive command and control economy. Just because this so-called "capitalist" system is being run by corporations doesn't mean it is any less command-and-control with multi-national corporations in the drivers' seats. We are living in an age of corporate neo-fascism, and the time has passed when we can sit by and let it happen. The last two items frighten me beyond words, and I'd rather not give them numbers at all.

Getting us all connected seamlessly and allowing everyone, everywhere to benefit from the Internet should be everyone's top priority

Making the capabilities of the Internet more readily available to a greater number of people would be the first priority. Making it easy and safe to use would be the next important level.

Making the Internet more an economic incentive rather than adding government restrictions would be more beneficial in the long run.

The top priority should be to experiment with 21st century improvements to democratic systems. Stock markets collect billions of votes daily on competing leaders, policies and decisions. The same needs to be explored as soon as possible as para-political organizations.

Technology is only widely adopted if it makes sense to the way of life of the people involved. The current legal and technical environment of ICTs is very strongly biased toward the Western culture. To make it truly global, the assumptions behind the models of users have to vary according to the culture of those users. Then there is a problem of infrastructure to be overcome in the majority of the world. This would be best addressed by providing training and incentives to local operatives. Allowing countries to develop networks that are adapted to the local needs, and not necessarily those that would be created by external developers. A microcredit system is nice, but not urgent, and security against terrorism is only a factor when there is some external motivation. Crime prevention is a problem, but one that depends more on the individual user being educated and properly equipped than it does on the spending of development funds.

The legal environment is still in its infancy at the local, state, and country level, let alone international law… Microcredit or some sort of internationally accepted monetary system will help flatten the networked economy. I don't believe a international security watchdog is possible or useful until a system of law is accepted across the network.

Legal and regulatory issues, even more so than technical ones, are the most likely to impede adoption of information technology. After all, the main reason behind the internet's growth is its open architecture, which everyone from Microsoft to an individual developer can leverage. Ensuring interoperability and adherence to open standards is critical for a truly global internet.

Freedom of expression is of paramount importance, securing monetary transactions will build trust in transactions, protecting it becomes the next priority. By implementing these tasks you can then afford to connect those who are currently not online

The legal environment is very important, and we also must get more people online. The monetary systems are being developed by firms, and quite soon we will have several, probably.

We really need to educate people in a sensitive way first in order for any other advances to be embraced by the masses.

Access to networks and information is just as critical as access to clean water, health care, and so on. If you don't have a connected world, the other priorities don't really matter.

This seriously overestimates the place of the Internet and computers in the lives of the vast majority of the world's population.

The absence of competition against giants like Google and Microsoft is a big threat to the network and to the people. It is the role of these companies to transform themselves into monopolies. It is the role of the states to protect competition and interworking.

I'd err on the side of promoting open standards and expanding the network, rather than government regulation.

It is a waste of time to play this game, as business and politics will drive the evolution of the Net.

The free market will work it out.

The world (and the US) needs a better infrastructure available to support the wider acceptance and use of technology. Multiple platforms must work the same way when interacting with the internet. There cannot be barriers created by particular software or hardware platforms.

If this is a supposedly democratizing agent, then those who currently do not have access should be granted it.

The Internet is at its best when it's all about the end user.

Sharing technological know-how with developing countries should be the top priority.

I'm somewhat worried about an "international security watchdog." I would love to see the virtual world more secure, but I would not like to see a virtual "Patriot Act." Frankly, I think the politics of this will keep it from happening by 2020.

There are other issues that need to be considered that impact the order of priority and importance.

Cybercrime has enabled the rise of a techno-mafia that will eventually threaten existing organized crime syndicates. This will eventually unleash the cyber-equivalent of Pearl Harbor - an attack that will empty the bank accounts of millions within hours, triggering mass panic and hysteria. The government will do nothing as major financial institutions teeter on the brink of collapse - all brought on by a flood of packets unleashed from a single computer. The President will release a video on the Internet, saying "Who knew that the Internet was vulnerable to attack"? Everyone will laugh at him, but it will not make us feel better.

CT's? Global secure micropayments would be higher on my list if you didn't use the example of funding foreign farms. I'd like a simple micropayment system to buy an interesting movie download from Asia. Maybe such a system is already in development via Visa/Mastercard or Paypal. But the global "flat world" economy you've mentioned earlier will need a payment system for routine business, not just occasional funding.

The question seems to presume that all four alternatives are desirable. They are not. (But this respondent does not elaborate.)

Let the system develop itself.

It is essential to work to help those who are disenfranchised to become better integrated in any and all resource networks.

Wealth is important for every person.

Don't necessarily trust watchdog outfits. "Who watches the watchers?"

Internet should be developed without adding to Microsoft monopoly, or other similar ones. Local applications and initiatives need space to thrive.

I'd love to (explain and add to my answer), but I'm doing this at work, and the elaboration to this question would take an hour!

The last one (4) seems like the only one I'd want anything to do with.

Numbers 2 and 3 are unnecessary. Number 4 would be a Bad Thing.

No way on 3 and 4.

Avoid #4 at all costs.

Without 1 first there is no need for the rest; the rest supports 1.

Equalizing the experiences of the most vulnerable would be my top priority. Then comes safety for the rest.

The internet is not a social-engineering tool. We can deal with the terrorists, but keep the government out. Don't trade human rights for security.

The promise of the internet to be a means of improved human communication needs to be encouraged at all levels of society. Unless and until people are allowed to have access to this incredible tool, the historical record of suspicion and conflict will continue forever.

The network should be central to commercial and banking activity, whatever it takes to support that transformation should proceed.

Openness, decentralization, and participation are not just trends; they are the reality of technological development.

I would leave the microcredit thing off the list; we can do that now (except for the US, because our banking system is off the grid.)

I like the idea of supporting other people in other nations.

Private networks, such as banks and maybe even the World Bank, will establish and operate global microcredit functions.

Since we are already shopping globally an international monetary unit would really help. However, given the undervaluation of some currencies, this could be difficult to implement.

My first is a no-brainer. It's important that those with little or poor access be encouraged and helped to get access (systems, training, support). It's also really key that technology be used to help offset the evils technology can be used for (child pornography for instance).

All of these choices are only marginally positive. As for "building the capacity of the network," that's what is being done now. What will happen is that religious and political groups will take the knowledge and build their own segregated network, thus cutting off global knowledge from their population. As for "creating a legal and operating environment," legal for who? The whole world? Impossible. The world is too segmented. As for "developing... international security watchdog," again, it would only be recognized by a few countries, at best. Not possible in today's political climate. And, as for "establishing ... monetary microcredit," again, it won't be recognized by majority of countries. Religious and political strongarms will prevent this from happening, unless they get a cut of the action. What do we need? Well, an invasion from outer space might help ... at least until we beat them (or are beaten). Then things would be back to what passes as "normal" ... continuous religious and political strife.

Developing and arming an international security watchdog org seems a bit too Orwellian for my liking! I believe our biggest priority now should be access and knowledge.

Despite fears of "Big Brother," the rise of terrorism will result in the developing and "arming" of an effective international security watchdog organization to preserve and protect certain ways of life. The competitive advantage of those nations with the Internet will encourage us to separate themselves from the have-nots of the globe. It will not bring us closer.

Better and more widespread access is the key to the future, but we also need to find a way to deal with the myriad of legal issues surrounding copyrights and intellectual property before we drown in lawsuits. I would say the monetary system is number 3, but I think there is already enough ability to conduct business in the appropriate currency to push that down a little in the priority list.

1) Given the current US congressional discussions over potential "ISP favoritism," i.e. providing better data throughput or access to paid partner's content, as well as various issues of browser interoperability, and the EEUU issues with Microsoft monopolistic browser/media player technologies, without this the rest is toast! 2) Ditto, with the stipulation that it read "enable" rather than "force." There would be no eBay without a Paypal equivalent. I can buy a book from Japan or UK as easily as my own country, and I do. As access and payments become easier, it might be just as easy to buy my recycled silk sari yarn directly from Nepalese weavers rather than through a retailer, doubtless increasing the producer's income. 3) With the additional goal of open information transfer and intellectual freedom. 4) Fraud is an increasing problem and will need increasing policing and enforcement. It is tempting to put it higher, but without the structure to support it, it's not going to be effective anyway.

Access is important, but it is also important that we don't make a deal with the devil and cede control over the future of the internet to large corporations in exchange for access. Access needs to happen under a paradigm of open, democratic control of the network. Security and economic growth are important priorities also, but if we allow the internet to become a privately controlled network, the internet as we've come to know it will no longer exist in any meaningful way.

The order should be 4,2,1,3. Number 3 is jurisdictionally unlikely as some sort of international body that would ever be universally accepted... it already exists anyway as a cooperative effort among various national governments.

I listed "Developing and 'arming' an effective international security watchdog organization" last because I believe this is counterproductive. Anytime an individual or group takes it upon itself to decide how the others shall live/work, trouble surely follows. Even when the original goal is meant to be helpful, it can become self-serving and exclusive. The Christian church comes to mind.

1) Leaving the Internet open will help with greater dissemination of ideas, continued innovation, and economic competition that will help keep the costs down. Openness benefits everyone, especially people in developing countries. 2) Although access by itself will not ultimately alter a society, it is only first step to become a player in the global community. Education, training, and business skills will also be necessary. Access will be the first step in a society towards greater fundamental change, which might be resisted or in the least take at least a generation or two to occur. 3) Individual investments on a global scale can really change the dynamics of global economics. However, this type of change comes with a lot of political, economic, legislative, etc., baggage. The benefits of this change would be difficult and not immediately apparent. 4) The first question that comes to mind is who will monitor the watchdog organization? There is too much room there for corruption, using the organization to push political agendas, and traipsing over people's rights.

I wish one of these options had been: finding a way for individuals to reduce the commercialization of public space and the loss of privacy that is accompanying this. This seems at war with option one which I chose, but I was identifying with the last sentence of that choice.

I would spend my money encouraging the development of a global public network instead of the privately held one we currently are forced to accept.

These choices would not be my top priority. I would 1) ensure continued innovation as the keystone to continued global benefits; 2) ensure Internet users have basic freedoms to connect any device, access any information, or use any software over the Internet; and 3) spur telecom competition as a way of driving down broadband prices, and increasing consumer choices.

Number 4 suggests that the Internet is only about commerce, and if that is the case, what would be offered online that people who earn $100 a year could afford? Although 3 is ideal, I doubt it would be effective. Number 2 is also something of a problem because "technical ability" may not have anything to do with the reasons why people don't use the Internet. So the item I ranked first is the only one in the list that I think should be pursued.

We may not know the answers, but people from other cultures may have ideas that could contribute to the other three elements. Furthermore, they would not be left behind.

Undertaking any of these things will take vigorous work at the grassroots level. Therefore building capacity is most critical. Enabling the flow of funds is also hugely important because of the impact of small money movements and the importance of ... what's it called when people send money home to their home countries? This should be easy and inexpensive.

Capacity building has to come first if we are to move from today's fragmented divided access to universal access and use. Establishing monetary and legal operating environments are the next steps. Although I marked the development and "arming" of an effective security watchdog organization 4th, that's not where I'd spend effort. We have no models of effective organizations of this sort and because I don't think that our current nation-state organizations will be transformed by then, I cannot envision that within less than 15 years we can build an organization that everyone (or anyone) could trust.

The monetary microcredit system seems too idealistic in our current global economy. There would need to be major economic change before any such thing could hope to be implemented.

The highest two priorities are guaranteeing anonymity, and scanning the world's documents on line, particularly the older documents being rotted away in people's private collections. The third highest priority is backing up the internet so that stuff does not disappear the next day.

In the hierarchy of needs, I put security over connectivity, then follow with software utilization over unification of monetary systems.

I actually believe that only number 1 is important. I would have put 4 in the other three choices.

By establishing a "monetary microcredit system" first you enforce change and increase the population in developing countries. This is in my opinion an excellent starting point for new markets. That is why I put "opacity of network..." on second place. "Creating a legal and operating environment" would be my third choice as I see that it takes the most time to succeed. By prioritizing the other tasks we strive for a faster success. I put "an international security watchdog organization" in fourth place, as I think everybody is responsible for their own behavior on the internet. Though there should be checks on illegal behavior on the internet it is my opinion that you cannot secure everything. People should start learning that you cannot prevent bad things from happening.

The "microcredit" thing sure is out of left field. Did you mean to say "micropayment"? Enabling easy commerce between anyone and anyone will produce FAR, FAR more benefit than enabling easy tiny loans to developing countries.

Number one is far more important than the other three. Computers are not the only solution to the world's economic problems.

Hmmm. 1234 is the obvious order - some bias here.

"Build it and they will come" (Field of Dreams).

I believe in general technology is good and everyone should have access to it. The rest, not so sure about any of them. Regarding security, if the Internet becomes too dangerous, then having everyone with the opportunity to be online is irrelevant because no one will use it except the bad guys.

If I could, I'd drop my 4th-ranked priority to, oh, about 10th. I'm concerned about the free-speech/expression implications of an "international security watchdog organization."

I question if the last two of these priorities should really be priorities at all.

I am not sure that these are even the right four statements - in fact I'm sure they aren't - wouldn't even put 3 and 4 on the list

An effective international security watchdog? Who are you kidding?

I gave "arming an effective international security watchdog organization a zero/0 because it is a 0. Start with improving how national entities cooperate, and then cross network with each other. Creating an international "watchdog organization" is a threat to privacy, and unfortunately, doesn't address the concerns you started with." So, no. Nada... give me a break.

Getting people online and having them do what they want is more important now then safeguarding everything. That will happen more if there are too many "accidents." Information wants to be free, other services will be paid for, but a new international monetary microcredit system will not help (and I don't believe we will ever see one that most people will agree on).

I believe my #1 is the sine qua non for all the others.

Paying attention to security is underrated in many people's minds. For me, it is a serious issue as it is the one issue most likely to undermine the continued globalization of infrastructure and its use.

"Cultivation of universal infrastructure standards" is another word for monoculture. So second item is politically correct but paradoxical.

There are only 3 pillars for development: Health; Education; Infrastructure. This is the role of governments the rest is the role of the civil society.

Without popularity, it is meaningless to do other things. When the network is secure, monetary activities can be implemented easily.

Now is the time to start developing the security measures. If we pack the functionality before thinking through the security, it will take longer than 14 years to work through all of the bugs to make it secure enough to be effective. The others flow in a natural order.

The global network needs to be available to as many people as possible before we can even think about the other three options. What good is a system that possibly might need to be restructured after other are brought online. Seems like putting the cart before the horse - you don't develop systems and regulations for something that is not close to being finished.

The free market will determine what gets developed where. If people want to protect personal info, use the software they want or share knowledge with the less fortunate, they should do so themselves, it may not be government or business appropriate to develop. The more people blog, contact companies & governments with opinions and make decisions in their life in line with their ideals, they will affect things in the way they feel is progressive and right. People's privacy may be at risk, but public opinion will monitor and respond in a way that meets the needs of the majority of people. I am also excited about the internet technology working in two directions to deliver real-time info on everything you need in your daily life and allow you to have two-way communication with all of it, making us less couch potatoes, and more participants in the world.


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