Early adopter angst

Dang, there has been a spate of early adopter angst lately.

Just read Alex Vanelsas to see a good example.

Today Frederick over at the Last Podcast gets into the act, writing “I kept wondering if the gap between early adopters and mainstream users isn’t expanding more and more and what that means for services that cater mostly to early adopters.”

Over the last few days I’ve seen another misconception: that Twitter is only Silicon Valley people talking to themselves. Do a search for “Silicon Valley” on Tweetscan and you’ll see a few of those. That misconception is easy to disprove: just watch Twitter Vision for a few minutes and you’ll see that very few Twitterers are in Silicon Valley.

There ARE huge differences between early adopters and others. I was in Alana Taylor’s Ustream channel the other night and many people there told me they like hanging out there “because people understand what I’m talking about here.”

In other words, when someone says to “Tweet that” you don’t get blank stares, or, worse, derision.

If I get arrogant about the role of early adopters (some people call them influencers, or “passionates”) it’s because I’ve seen they are the ones who drive society. You really think that guy who I saw the other day on the plane using Windows 2000 and an old version of Lotus Notes is driving society? Riiiigggghhhhtttt.

I’ve seen this discussion happen EVERY TIME there’s a new technology. I remember back in 1977 that only nerds could use personal computers. Very few people (not even Steve Jobs or Bill Gates) understood just how big that would become.

I remember the days when email was only used by the nerds who had access to Unix terminals at universities or research labs.

I remember the days when people said “IM would never be used in enterprises.” Today it’s built into Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange. Seriously. They did say that.

I remember the days when the World Wide Web was only for nerds who did physics at places like CERN and weird kids who went to Stanford. I remember people actively betting against the Web. Luckily the guy I worked for, Jim Fawcette, saw its promise early in 1994 and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build one of the first publisher’s Web sites. That investment is why I’m here today.

Today the angst is onto things like Twitter, FriendFeed, etc. Even older Web 2.0 properties like Flickr haven’t really gone mainstream. Last week we spent some time with Ansel Adams’ son. He had never heard of Flickr. Ansel Adams son!!! That dude should be the first that photo sharing sites pitch, since he’s always talking to press about photography and his company does tons of classes for photographers in Yosemite and other places. Heck, Flickr should figure out how to sponsor the Ansel Adams’ Gallery. But they don’t.

Why not? Because convincing late adopters to change their behavior is VERY hard and VERY expensive. It’s why Amazon doesn’t do TV advertising. Rather they build a product that early adopters, passionate computer geeks, and influencers like.

How does that affect their business performance? Well, compare Best Buy’s price/earnings ratio to that of Amazon’s. According to Google Finance Best Buy’s is 13.91 and Amazon’s is 67.03. I know which one I’d rather have.

Early adopters DO matter. Anyone who says that they don’t needs to go back to business school.

This is why I follow 20,000 Twitterers. I want to study what early adopters are doing and thinking. Twitter is the best place — by far — to do that.

That’s not to say that business people should forget about the late adopters. They are going to be the ones you need to see huge profitability and growth. I guarantee you that most of Ansel Adams’ business is among late adopters now. But then his business has been in Yosemite for 102 years and has one of America’s best-known brands. If you’re building a business today you don’t have those advantages. Your best option is to follow eBay, Amazon, Google, Flickr, Facebook, etc by talking and understanding early adopters first. Why? They are passionate and want to see something new. That guy with the Windows 2000 old Dell laptop? He isn’t looking for anything new. He isn’t going to adopt your newfangled service.

But the people on Twitter and FriendFeed and Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn and Plaxo? They have already told you they are willing to try new things. Therefore they are probably going to be willing to try your new thing too.

We’ll be talking about this in 20 more years when some newfangled thing comes out, though. Most people have no clue about the role of early adopters, and/or totally misunderstand early adopters and/or even lie about them, hence the “only Silicon Valley people are on Twitter” meme.

While we’re talking about Twitter, Yuvi, the wonderkid in India, did an analysis of my usage of Twitter that’s pretty interesting.

186 thoughts on “Early adopter angst

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  3. The Google brand is becoming a mainstay in everyone’s daily vocabulary. Eventually the term ‘to Google” will be a word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

    So it’s sad how lazy and inefficient MSN & Yahoo are. They have the funds but not the balls to move quickly and change.

    We use PPC on all 3 and Google is by far the easiest to work with. Sad but true. We’re watching though…

  4. The Google brand is becoming a mainstay in everyone’s daily vocabulary. Eventually the term ‘to Google” will be a word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

    So it’s sad how lazy and inefficient MSN & Yahoo are. They have the funds but not the balls to move quickly and change.

    We use PPC on all 3 and Google is by far the easiest to work with. Sad but true. We’re watching though…

  5. Christopher: how did Toyota get the brand position it did? By appealing to early adopters. Heck, let’s look at just the Prius. It has such a strong brand position among early adopters that other hybrids are having trouble getting recognized as hybrids.

    Britney Spears? Celebrities are BUILT by appealing to early adopters first. http://www.hypem.com for you bud. Not to mention that she, when she was fairly popular and not all doped up, would get paid up to $100,000 just to show up to a bar for 10 minutes. Why? Cause that would kick off the influence networks.

    I’m talking about how things get popular. You’re talking about things that already are popular. Big difference.

  6. Christopher: how did Toyota get the brand position it did? By appealing to early adopters. Heck, let’s look at just the Prius. It has such a strong brand position among early adopters that other hybrids are having trouble getting recognized as hybrids.

    Britney Spears? Celebrities are BUILT by appealing to early adopters first. http://www.hypem.com for you bud. Not to mention that she, when she was fairly popular and not all doped up, would get paid up to $100,000 just to show up to a bar for 10 minutes. Why? Cause that would kick off the influence networks.

    I’m talking about how things get popular. You’re talking about things that already are popular. Big difference.

  7. If they were the ones who drive society as you suggest

    Microsoft wouldn’t even exist. Toyota wouldn’t be #1. Bennie Babies wouldn’t have been a fad. ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ wouldn’t have made it beyond its first showing. ‘Murder She Wrote’ wouldn’t continue to rerun-forever torture us. Kitsch and Pop Art wouldn’t exist. WalMart wouldn’t be, nor would ANY of the paperbacks they (dare to) sell. Motorcycle Clubs wouldn’t be. Britney Spears wouldn’t have ever sold a single record. No one would dare read People Magazine.

    I mean, I could fill a book, evidences of mass-culture dominance are ALL AROUND US, yet Scoble in his blind-cult-walk can’t manage to see a single one.

    Pop culture varies greatly from society elitist-culture, anyone with a 9 volts worth of juice could tell you that.

  8. If they were the ones who drive society as you suggest

    Microsoft wouldn’t even exist. Toyota wouldn’t be #1. Bennie Babies wouldn’t have been a fad. ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ wouldn’t have made it beyond its first showing. ‘Murder She Wrote’ wouldn’t continue to rerun-forever torture us. Kitsch and Pop Art wouldn’t exist. WalMart wouldn’t be, nor would ANY of the paperbacks they (dare to) sell. Motorcycle Clubs wouldn’t be. Britney Spears wouldn’t have ever sold a single record. No one would dare read People Magazine.

    I mean, I could fill a book, evidences of mass-culture dominance are ALL AROUND US, yet Scoble in his blind-cult-walk can’t manage to see a single one.

    Pop culture varies greatly from society elitist-culture, anyone with a 9 volts worth of juice could tell you that.

  9. We’ve been making a big push internally to get employees signed up on Twitter and using it. In just a few weeks, we now have over 250 employees on Twitter:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/employees

    Most of our employees are not normally early adopters. But because we’ve been making a big push internally, and Twitter is more useful when you have friends using it, a lot of employees have really embraced Twitter whereas on their own without other people at Zappos participating they probably would not have. You can see our employees’ Twitter activity here:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/employee_tweets

    It’s a lot of ongoing chatter, compared to almost no chatter just a few weeks ago. I sent out an email to employees to this getting started guide I wrote:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/start

    Most of the rest of our employees’ Twitter activity happened on its own.

    Starting next week, we are offering Twitter 101 classes at our headquarters (we are in Vegas, not Silicon Valley) to get even more employees to sign up. So I guess all I’m saying is that there are ways to get normally late adopters to become early adopters, and it doesn’t have to be very hard or very expensive.

  10. We’ve been making a big push internally to get employees signed up on Twitter and using it. In just a few weeks, we now have over 250 employees on Twitter:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/employees

    Most of our employees are not normally early adopters. But because we’ve been making a big push internally, and Twitter is more useful when you have friends using it, a lot of employees have really embraced Twitter whereas on their own without other people at Zappos participating they probably would not have. You can see our employees’ Twitter activity here:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/employee_tweets

    It’s a lot of ongoing chatter, compared to almost no chatter just a few weeks ago. I sent out an email to employees to this getting started guide I wrote:

    http://twitter.zappos.com/start

    Most of the rest of our employees’ Twitter activity happened on its own.

    Starting next week, we are offering Twitter 101 classes at our headquarters (we are in Vegas, not Silicon Valley) to get even more employees to sign up. So I guess all I’m saying is that there are ways to get normally late adopters to become early adopters, and it doesn’t have to be very hard or very expensive.

  11. You really think Neil Young with that classic acoustic guitar is driving society? ;-)

    Come on… these are just tools. You don’t need the latest shiny object to have “passion”.

  12. You really think Neil Young with that classic acoustic guitar is driving society? ;-)

    Come on… these are just tools. You don’t need the latest shiny object to have “passion”.

  13. I think the label “early adopter” is being defined far too loosely here. What you are largely referring to are initial users of a product or service. Of course anything new, whether it succeeds in the long term or not, is going to have someone who tries it first. Early adopters, on the other hand, are individuals willing to take huge risks (in time, money, convenience) to embrace a novel technology. They quite often have a hand in the development of the project and, if it meets their needs satisfactorily, can be important opinion influencers.

    I would not characterize the initial users of Twitter and FriendFeed as early adopters. Neither service is first in their respective technologies. There have been Twitter-like platforms and social feed aggregators in existence for quite some time and with far more technical sophistication. What makes these two later-movers stand out is their incredible simplicity and ease of adoption. Thus, users tend to fit the profile of an early majority rather than visionaries, with a narrow chasm between them and the only real barrier being the network effect. This is where the angst you speak of comes from.

    As much as I value the innovators and nerds out there (I consider myself to be among them), I think you give far too much credit to your “early adopters.” If they were the ones who drive society as you suggest, then VHS would not have beaten out Betamax and MySpace would not be so popular today.

  14. I think the label “early adopter” is being defined far too loosely here. What you are largely referring to are initial users of a product or service. Of course anything new, whether it succeeds in the long term or not, is going to have someone who tries it first. Early adopters, on the other hand, are individuals willing to take huge risks (in time, money, convenience) to embrace a novel technology. They quite often have a hand in the development of the project and, if it meets their needs satisfactorily, can be important opinion influencers.

    I would not characterize the initial users of Twitter and FriendFeed as early adopters. Neither service is first in their respective technologies. There have been Twitter-like platforms and social feed aggregators in existence for quite some time and with far more technical sophistication. What makes these two later-movers stand out is their incredible simplicity and ease of adoption. Thus, users tend to fit the profile of an early majority rather than visionaries, with a narrow chasm between them and the only real barrier being the network effect. This is where the angst you speak of comes from.

    As much as I value the innovators and nerds out there (I consider myself to be among them), I think you give far too much credit to your “early adopters.” If they were the ones who drive society as you suggest, then VHS would not have beaten out Betamax and MySpace would not be so popular today.

  15. aureliusmaximus, I completely agree. I was simply answering Scoble’s challenge to name a service that didn’t go through an early adopter phase. I somehow doubt prostitution, as a “service” had early adopters. Agreed not every product or service has early adopters first. Scoble seems to making the case they EVERY product or service goes through an early adopter phase. As you rightly point out, that is not always the case.

  16. aureliusmaximus, I completely agree. I was simply answering Scoble’s challenge to name a service that didn’t go through an early adopter phase. I somehow doubt prostitution, as a “service” had early adopters. Agreed not every product or service has early adopters first. Scoble seems to making the case they EVERY product or service goes through an early adopter phase. As you rightly point out, that is not always the case.

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