BBC scenarios from 2004 about kids’ online lives in 2014


My company, Storythings, was lucky enough to work with the brilliant Fiona Romeo, Director of Digital Content & Strategy at MOMA, last year. Fiona worked with me briefly at the BBC in the early 2000s, when I ran an innovation department called Creative R&D.

At that time, only a minority of the UK public was online, so we commissioned a couple of ‘scenario planning‘ exercises to imagine how internet use was going to change life in the UK. One of these was focused on how children might use technology, the risks this might create, and the roles that schools, parents, and other organisations would play in managing these risks.

When we met again last year, Fiona reminded me that the project was from 2004, and so we were predicting how children’s online lives might be in 2014. The project developed three scenarios – ‘Watching You, Watching Me‘, in which there was a common shared ‘safe’ online space, and an open unregulated space; ‘Paying to Play on the Multinet’, in which we imagined a number of regulated spaces managed by corporations, and similar unregulated open space; and ‘Left to their Own Devices‘, in which there were only open interconnected networks, and regulation was a shared responsibility between users and service providers.

It’s worth pointing out that the aim of scenario planning is absolutely *not* about predicting the future. Instead, they are strategic exercises to model how different trends and drivers *might* shape the future, so that you can develop more effective strategies, and ways of tracking change.

Having said that, looking back a decade later, there is a lot in the scenarios that looks familiar in 2014. Remember – these were produced in 2004 – Myspace was only one year old, Facebook launched that year, Youtube was a year away, and it was three years before the release of the first iPhone. It says a lot about the research and insight skills of Fiona, Hannah Richardson and the rest of the Creative R&D team that they got so many trends right. There’s a couple of points in particular that really resonate today:

  • The overall concept of a mixed internet between commercial regulated spaces and the ‘open’ internet was a pretty good prediction of how the last 10 years of the internet has played out.
  • The ‘Multinet’ scenario in particular looks a lot like the world of the ‘Stacks’ that Bruce Sterling talked about a couple of years ago at SXSW.
  • Mobile is a big feature of all three scenarios. This was prescient, with the iPhone still a couple of years away. But SMS had been around for over 5 years, so we knew that mobile devices were already really important to teens.
  • The scenarios all include references to social sharing of content, and kids making their own content. We recognised this would have good and bad results, with potential fame and opportunities on one side, and risks around privacy and bullying on the other
  • In all three scenarios, a big feature is how kids would work around limitations to get the connectivity and content they wanted. No surprises there, as teens have always done this, but it’s a really important part of designing any service aimed at kids and teens..

The scenarios were presented as a gorgeous poster by Xplane, and I’ve uploaded them here if you want to download them and take a look.

It’s fascinating to look through the scenarios, and it’s sparked my interest in doing work like this again. If you’re a company or organisation who would be interested in doing some scenario work, then do please get in touch.

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