Things they didn’t expect from the Internet in the 90s

I started working with the Internet in 1995, maybe 1994. (I was 12 – or so.) I don’t know how I got into it; my MA in Irish Lit hardly made me qualified but I’m often thankful that I got lucky. Part of my luck was that both of my parents worked in computers and recognized early that the Internet was going to be big.

It’s fun to think back and what we thought would happen and what has really happened, so far. SO I particularly enjoyed Roger Cochetti’s article in in The Hill on what we failed to plan for in the 1990s. (I’m borrowing from Benton Foundation’s summary

I worked with a fairly small group of early-stage internet policy wonks and helped create many of the basic rules that still govern the internet today. We missed a lot — a lot that turns out to have been important.

  • The internet as a major domain for war — Although the internet had its origins as an American war-fighting tool, no one imagined that it would evolve into a principal theater for warfare among national militaries and violent non-governmental groups.

  • The evolution of a small number of internet giants — Most of the Americans involved in early internet policy-making (there were no non-Americans) expected a huge growth of web-based services appealing to discreet market niches. Few, if any, foresaw the emergence of enormous, internet-based businesses that would globally aggregate the common interests of billions of people.

  • The disappearance of Online Service Providers (OSPs) — Sometimes called “walled gardens,” OSPs had the benefit of being tightly-controlled by their operators and thus able to offer security and content controls that were difficult or impossible on the open internet. Because OSPs were controlled by their operators, they offered an alternative policy environment, which today does not much exist.

  • The use of the internet to create billions of individual market profiles — The ability to create comprehensive digital profiles of hundreds of millions of consumers needed the convergence of the internet and advanced computer processing, which emerged around the end of the 1990s and can be found everywhere today. This has changed everything.

  • No one foresaw the near disappearance of travel agents, bicycle messenger services, book stores, CDs, classified advertising, postal letters, and much more.

But as much as we missed, through luck or prescience, we got a lot right.

This entry was posted in Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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