Are Early Adopters Leading the Web Astray?

I’ve been following all of these posts about whether the Internet is boring (if stable equals boring, then I’d say it’s pretty darn boring) or whether we’re in a digestion phase for technology (which I do think is the case and is a much more interesting discussion). I think there is something a bit different going on and I figured I’d share my thoughts.

Most models of technical diffusion that I’ve seen have some concept of early adopters using new technology and helping move it to the point where it needs to “cross the chasm” and become mainstream. One issue I’ve always had with these models is that it places an inordinate amount of faith in the ability of early adopters to effectively shuttle these technologies to the point where they become mainstream. If early adopters choose the wrong technologies (or they fail to materialize), those technologies don’t cross the chasm and more or less die on the vine.

Right now, it feels to me like early adopters are off experimenting with technologies in the microblogging (Twitter) and lifecasting (Jaiku, uStream, Justin.tv) spaces are far from going mainstream. I’m not saying they won’t get there, but right now they feel like there is a long way to go from where they are to a more mainstream audience. One to two years ago, a lot of early adopters I know were playing with technologies like video sharing (YouTube, Dailymotion), social networking (Facebook), and new voice applications. Right now there just isn’t anything that I see the early adopter crowd playing with that has a very near-term likelihood of going mainstream.
Thoughts? Is there a technology that you think is deep in the early adopter category that do have a likelihood to go mainstream? Go ahead and drop something in the comments or send me an email.

  • http://elapsedtime.blogspot.com hunter

    Charles –

    really interesting question and one i’ve been debating with people as well. Some products which are early to market actually do represent the eventual mainstream because the early adopters aren’t fundamentally different than the mainstream, but as you note, sometimes they are.

    Products like Twitter are evocative of what people want to do with one another, although there are power user use cases which won’t trickle into mainstream.

    Before Google/YouTube, i helped get Second Life off the ground. At the time everyone thought we were crazy – that mainstream users would never be interested in creating or interacting in a 3D space. Now perhaps SL isn’t mainstream but it was evocative enough of a user need to be directionally correct.

    So i think that’s ultimately what you see with lots of early technology that gets popular – directionally correct in ID’ing a mainstream need. Then it becomes a challenge as to whether that business can go mainstream or see the need met by other products. i.e. does Twitter become the messaging platform or will your Facebook status message broaden to be Twitter-like.

  • hunter

    Charles – really interesting question and one i’ve been debating with people as well. Some products which are early to market actually do represent the eventual mainstream because the early adopters aren’t fundamentally different than the mainstream, but as you note, sometimes they are. Products like Twitter are evocative of what people want to do with one another, although there are power user use cases which won’t trickle into mainstream. Before Google/YouTube, i helped get Second Life off the ground. At the time everyone thought we were crazy – that mainstream users would never be interested in creating or interacting in a 3D space. Now perhaps SL isn’t mainstream but it was evocative enough of a user need to be directionally correct. So i think that’s ultimately what you see with lots of early technology that gets popular – directionally correct in ID’ing a mainstream need. Then it becomes a challenge as to whether that business can go mainstream or see the need met by other products. i.e. does Twitter become the messaging platform or will your Facebook status message broaden to be Twitter-like.

  • charles

    Great comment, Hunter – I think you’re totally right and perhaps the things we’re seeing in the market today are directionally correct but not the companies who actually take advantage of the opportunity.

  • http://lsvp.wordpress.com jeremy liew

    Pioneers often take arrows, but pave the way. Broadcast.com is another good example (although the arrows they took were gold with diamond tips).

    I’m not a twitterer but you see the same lightweight microcasting behavior in Facebook’s status, and kids were even hacking AIM’s away message years ago to achieve the same end. There is something to this behavior that has legs.

    Lifecasting I’m not so sure about. Its too heavyweight a behavior to go mainstream IMO

  • jeremy liew

    Pioneers often take arrows, but pave the way. Broadcast.com is another good example (although the arrows they took were gold with diamond tips). I’m not a twitterer but you see the same lightweight microcasting behavior in Facebook’s status, and kids were even hacking AIM’s away message years ago to achieve the same end. There is something to this behavior that has legs. Lifecasting I’m not so sure about. Its too heavyweight a behavior to go mainstream IMO

  • charles

    Jeremy,

    I don’t use Twitter much, but I do update my status frequently on Facebook and use my IM status to distribute content (mostly Facebook clips) or give status updates. I guess for me the idea of a disconnected status update service doesn’t make much sense to me – perhaps Twitter embedded in other products would make it feel more mainstream for me.

    Passive status broadcasting is relatively common, I suppose.

  • charles

    Jeremy, I don’t use Twitter much, but I do update my status frequently on Facebook and use my IM status to distribute content (mostly Facebook clips) or give status updates. I guess for me the idea of a disconnected status update service doesn’t make much sense to me – perhaps Twitter embedded in other products would make it feel more mainstream for me. Passive status broadcasting is relatively common, I suppose.