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From the net to the web and beyond: actors and interests in the construction of theinternet

Principal Researcher

Dr Sally Wyatt
Sociaal-wetenschappelijke Informatica
Universiteit van Amsterdam
Roeterstraat 15
1018 WB Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 20 525 8080
wyatt@pscw.uva.nl

Co-Workers

Dr Tiziana Terranova
University of East London
t.terranova@btinternet.com

Mr Graham Thomas
University of East London
g.s.thomas@uel.ac.uk

Research Period
1 February 1998 to
31 January 2000
Background/Context
Aims and Objectives
Project Design
Implications

Background/Context

The Internet occupies a prominent place in popular, policy and commercial debates about the emergence of a so-called 'virtual society'. Despite its aura of newness, what we now call the Internet has a long history, stretching back to the 1960s. It has evolved from a publicly-funded network to support defence-related research in the USA to an international academic network to its current configuration. This project explores what is happening to the Internet - who uses it for what - as it becomes more influenced by commercial considerations and more able to carry a range of digitised information (image and sound as well as text).

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of the project are to:

  • map the development of the Internet, focusing on the post-92 period

  • develop a small number of scenarios about the future development of the Internet

  • identify factors contributing to the success or failure of each scenario

  • identify patterns of access and use within each scenario - to identify and evaluate tools for conducting research about the Internet.

Project Design

Research about the Internet requires a hybrid, interdisciplinary approach. The project analyses online and offline materials to identify the range of predictions made about the Internet and its predecessors. Case studies of different user and producer groups are used to establish what they want and what they expect from the Internet. It is notoriously difficult to conduct research about Internet users, so the project is particularly concerned to refine the techniques available for doing so and to assess the ways in which the problems differ from those encountered in other areas of social research.

Implications

Too much of the debate about the Internet is based on naive utopianism or paranoid pessimism. Predictions about the future of work, entertainment, politics and everyday life are often based on extrapolations of isolated events. Such predictions also often assume that the Internet is fixed and inevitable. This project provides a more subtle understanding of the forces at work shaping the Internet, and of the range of actions and responses open to its producers and users.

 

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Contents current at 12th December 2000