If you could decide the future of the internet, what would you want to see? A smart home that does your laundry for you? The ability to vote online?
Onward, Internet, an initiative created by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, posed this question to the general public and has received thousands of responses ranging from the practical (free online textbooks) to the whimsical (3D holograms for video conferencing).
The project aims to spark an ongoing dialogue about the future of the web. Using a hybrid of online and offline marketing such as social media, an online suggestion form, and boxes placed on street corners in San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. the NCTA set out to collect people's ideas and share them with the community. Together they reveal a collective, ambitious vision for the future of the internet. The Onward, Internet site features dozens of submitted ideas in the form of gifs, photos, and videos.
BI Studios spoke with Brian Dietz, NCTA's VP of communications and digital strategy, to learn more about Onward, Internet and to find out whether there truly is such a thing as a collective vision of the future of the internet.
BI Studios: How did the idea for Onward, Internet come together?
Brian Dietz: NCTA represents the cable industry and cable operators, which are the biggest broadband providers in the US, so we think about the internet and all it enables all the time. But we wanted to think about it in another way: how we all share a vision for how great the internet can become in the future.
Why ask people to envision the future of the internet?
The internet is something that is not part of any one person, company, or industry. It's something that everyone has the ability to enjoy and use however he or she wants. Millions of consumers use it every day for a wide variety of things, and they have created some really amazing things because of it. We thought it was most important to hear from them about what they think of the internet and how it can be even better in the future.
We've been pleasantly surprised with the number of submissions, and we're continuing to receive them. We're in the several thousands already.
There were some interesting submissions featured on the site, like making the internet accessible through contact lenses and 3D holograms for video conferences. What are some of the most creative or unusual ideas you've received?
We got some extremely creative and funny ideas and some very serious ones, and we did expect that range. Some were certainly further afield than we originally thought, but it just shows that when you ask people about the internet, it means something different to everyone.
Some of the more creative and interesting ones were people talking about unicorns, having real-time conversations with the president and political leaders, and connecting brains for collaborative thinking. Some ideas were pretty far-fetched, but some probably aren't that far off.
If you were to submit an idea about the future of the internet, what would it be?
It would have to do with how the internet makes every form of entertainment possible at your fingertips, no matter where you are. A lot of that is starting to emerge right now, and it seems like it's not quite there yet maybe in the next five years.
We're on the cusp of seeing the transformation of entertainment, and that's something none of us have really witnessed before. It's partially having access to all the stuff we have now in a more immediate way. There's so much creativity and innovation happening in the technology and entertainment space. Some of this is merging together and creating more immersive experiences, and I think we'll continue to see more of that in the future.
Do you get the sense that there is a collective vision of the future of the internet, or does it vary a lot?
There were some definite themes. People want access to the internet no matter where they are. They want fast, high-speed networks. They want access to Wi-Fi not only at home, but in their neighborhood, coffee shop, and city park. Innovation is, of course, a major theme because there's so much happening on the internet.
Maybe not so ironically, there are some concerns about privacy and safety. People are becoming much more aware of preserving their digital privacy because a lot of their lives are now being lived online. I think the best way to describe it is that people want it all when it comes to the internet.
The site is very colorful and heavy on animation. Can you describe the logic behind the design and what its trying to convey?
We wanted our digital presence to reflect how dynamic the internet is. When you ask people to describe the internet, you get these extremely creative and interesting responses. The only way to represent that is to have a very colorful site with lots of animation and movement.
From the thousands of submissions, we highlight the ones that are more visually appealing. There's a process of creating an animated GIF, quick-fact box, or some other sort of visual representation of the idea. If someone says they want to see more reggae concerts online, we want to show what that really means, so there's a really cool GIF of a person enjoying a concert.
Can you describe Onward, Internet's marketing strategy? There were physical submission boxes on street corners in San Francisco, D.C., and New York City. How did this compare to the online strategy?
The goal of the campaign was to reach consumers in several different ways. Obviously people experience the internet most when they're using it, so we used a variety of digital tools and tactics. But we also wanted to see how people reacted on the street.
People are used to seeing these kinds of pop-up exhibits and consumer experiences, but they were intrigued and excited once they heard what this was about. We saw a lot of people engage. Their eyes lit up when they talked about the future of the internet. It was fun to watch.The bottom line is that the internet is all around us, and we're using it even though we're not thinking about it.
The bottom line is that the internet is all around us, and we're using it even though we're not thinking about it. We thought reaching people while they're using it at home or at their office, and also while they're walking around downtown, seemed to be the perfect way to reach them in these different scenarios.
NCTA didn't brand the campaign from the get-go. Was that intentional?
It was intentional. We represent an industry that provides internet services, and we didn't want people to be biased about their internet access by saying who was behind this campaign. We wanted to hear about their visions of the future of the internet or any issues they wanted to tell us. I think we were able to get more significant, credible feedback without them thinking that this was about a specific issue or industry.
What do you hope people will take away from Onward, Internet?
An understanding that we all share a similar vision for the future of the internet. Everyone has something to get out of the internet being a great technology and continuing to expand and grow. Whether it's you as a consumer using the internet on a daily basis or the cable industry investing billions of dollars to build networks and more Wi-Fi hotspots, we're all in this together, and we all have a shared vision to make the internet even better.
Submit your own ideas for the future of the internet at Onward, Internet.
This post is sponsored by NCTA.
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