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.