Oct 10

What do early adopters of social web applications look like?

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the model that includes early adopters and laggards. Some people embrace your new product early and evangelize it to their connections. Others wait, and adopt it once there is a critical mass.

Many think of early adopters as having certain characteristics. We think of them as people who have a tendency to embrace new ideas early, people who look for new product announcements, people who are recognized by others as trendsetters. They tend to be young and male. They like technology.

I’m beginning to wonder if this model breaks down when we think about the social web. One of the first activities one undertakes on many social systems is to add connections. But early adopters on new social systems don’t add others because they are also early adopters, they add people because of an affordance set by the service. For example, on a music sharing service people add others who they want to share music with. On a family connection service, they add their parents and relations. On an event planning service they add people they want to meet face to face. Their first degree connections are people they want to communicate with.

The likelihood of early adopters’ first degree connections having the classic early adopter characteristics listed above are low. We probably need a complete rethink of Everett Rogers’ model for the diffusion of innovations.

The two people who adopted on day 2 have very different characteristics. You can imagine how this effect would cascade.