While doing some research for a work project I’m doing currently, I came across
this illuminating PEW report from January 2005, called Internet Evolution: A
decade of adoption: How the internet has woven itself into American life
. The
following extract is from the introduction, entitled ‘Internet: The Mainstreaming of
Online Life’. Here it is, with one comment in italic inserted by me:

“The New Normal

The Web has become the “new normal” in the American way of life; those who
don’t go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority. And as the online population
has grown rapidly, its composition has changed rapidly. At the infant stage, the
internet’s user population was dominated by young, white men who had high incomes
and plenty of education [RM: not unlike the make-up of the Web 2.0 Conference
attendees]
. As it passed into its childhood years in 1999 and 2000, the
population went mainstream; women reached parity with men online, lots more minority
families joined the party, and more people with modest levels of income and education
came online.

This transition altered the internet’s social environment. These early adopters
loved the liberation they got from being online. They liked the fact that they could get
news from nontraditional sources. Back in 1996, 56% of those who got political news
online said they preferred the internet because they could get extra information that was
not available from traditional news sources. At the same time, just 18% said they
preferred the internet because it was convenient. These early adopters wanted to topple
all manner of institutions and establish a new order in virtual space. They had a utopian
sense of the transformative power of the new technology.

The later adopters are not looking to this technology to overturn the existing order.
They like the internet because it can make them more productive and more connected.
Theirs is an unsentimental outlook. Like most later adopters of technology, they need to
be shown that there is a real, immediate and practical value in embracing the new.”

What do I take from this?

1) Web 2.0 is still in the 1996 era in terms of Internet take-up;

2) perhaps some of us Web 2.0 pundits have been guilty of focusing too much on “utopian sense of the transformative power of the new technology”; aka the Bubble
mentality.

3) the tipping point will be when Web 2.0 becomes convenient and practical for mainstream people to
use – making them “more productive and more connected”. We’re still a year or two away
from that point, I think.

It’s an excellent report to read and a
timely reminder to us all of the context of Web 2.0, within the ongoing evolution of the
Internet.