Elon University

About the Early ’90s Predictions Database

Newspaper Covers ImageThe Early ’90s Predictions area of the Imagining the Internet site is a database of a thousand voices making more than 4,000 predictions about the coming impact of the internet.

It was created to serve as a resource and historic document. Research shines a light, using information to inspire new information. In our research for the Early ’90s section of this site, we sought out and mined predictive data, reading millions of words in thousands of articles, transcripts, and chapters, finding predictions in nearly 500 publications of the writings, presentations, speeches, and interviews of people who had something important to say about the internet between 1990 and 1995.

It was the internet’s ‘awe’ stage
This time-span was identified because it was the “awe” stage in which the global information network moved beyond its first, limited realm in research institutions and out into the public eye. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee developed the idea of a World Wide Web and wrote the first html source code. 1990 was also the year that ARPANET was decommissioned after 20 years of operation; the NSFNET Backbone took over as The Network. On the opposite end of our study’s time-span, 1995 is the year in which the NSFNET Backbone was terminated, ending U.S. government ownership of the internet and making way for commercial and consumer use to explode. 1995 was also the year in which Netscape, a company built around Mosaic, the first Internet “browser,” went public – shares priced at $28 opened at $70 – many people were betting the internet would have a profitable future. And in 1995, Microsoft’s Bill Gates first formally recognized the potential of the network, writing a vital memo, “The Coming Internet Tidal Wave” and releasing his book “The Road Ahead.” These years are the bookends for the predictions database.

We took a look at personalities
We began the search by spending a month identifying 200 “Internet personalities” of the early 1990s through a search of research papers, books, periodicals and internet sites. These names were then used in an eight-month search of books and periodical and newspaper databases, and the internet search engines Google, All the Web, and Vivisimo. As material was read, predictions made by anyone within our time parameters were gathered, thus garnering our thousand voices of the Net of the early ’90s. We took anything we saw; we know there’s a great deal more out there; we feel this is a representative, revealing sample of what people thought at the time, as recorded either directly by themselves or by the media of the time. More than 40 books were searched in the process; author-predictors – especially Bill Gates and Nicholas Negroponte, who wrote predictive books – are slightly over-represented in the database because there was a greater volume of their personally produced material from which to draw.

We sought only what people had to say about the future of the internet – their predictions about the new communications medium.

What the Early ’90s section records
We do not classify these predictive statements as accurate or off the mark – it is too soon to determine the absolute validity of the majority. Rather, this work:

  • Records what the people of the early-to-mid 1990s said about the blooming new communications medium, displays their statements in context and sorts them into topic and subtopic categories that were determined by the content of the body of predictions obtained.
  • Offers a thorough sampling of well-defined and categorized early internet predictions that can be used as a resource by scholars, historians, students, and researchers.The predictions have been classified by topic and subtopic. These divisions are explained in more detail on the Database Search Fields link on this site.
  • Identifies and catalogues people – Internet stakeholders and skeptics – who were moved by the internet explosion of the early 1990s to make some significant prediction(s) about the future of such communications. The study labels about a thousand people, loosely grouping them in specific categories, according to their background and expertise. The categories include: Advocate/Voice of the People; Entrepreneur/Business Leader; Futurist/Consultant; Author/Editor/Journalist; Legislator/Politician/Lawyer; Pioneer/Originator; Research Scientist/Illuminator; Technology Developer/Administrator. (Most of the internet predictors in this database could have fit in more than one of these categories, and one or two could be said to belong in all of the categories; people were sorted into a category that seemed to fit best, based on their background and the content of their predictions. This was subjective and not scientific; the sorting by “expertise” is meant only as a tool to help people understand the general background of the predictors. These divisions are explained in more detail on the Database Search Fields link on this site.)

This database is only a sample and it in no way purports to be a complete representation of all of the viewpoints expressed by the people whose voices it holds. In addition, please understand that mediated quotes – those reported by writers and/or filtered through editors before publication – might not match exactly what the person quoted originally said or meant to say. This database merely reflects the publications’ recorded versions of the predictive statements.

What was the tenor of the time?
The purpose of this work is to identify and document the expectations people began to express: What was everyone saying about the future of this new communications tool? Our goal was to scrutinize a great number of the written texts, speeches and broadcast materials of the early 1990s to extract a generous sample of predictions about the future of the Internet out of the millions of words written and spoken about the Internet in the years that were studied.

While books, newspapers and magazines were studied in the pursuit of this information, there is no doubt we couldn’t have done it without the internet.

We encourage you to use this slice of communications history as a base of exploration and an inspiration for research. If you publish your own work based on our data-mining and editing of these materials, we ask that you please credit the Elon/Pew Imagining the Internet site.