If you work in the technology industry it pays to be familiar with the ideas from Geoffrey Moore's insightful book Crossing the Chasm. In the book he takes a look at the classic marketing bell curve that segments customers into Early Adopters, Pragmatists, Conservatives and Laggards then points out that there is a large chasm to cross when it comes to becoming popular beyond an initial set of early adopters. There is a good review of his ideas in Eric Sink's blog post entitled Act Your Age which is excerpted below
The people in your market segment are divided into four groups:
Early Adopters are risk takers who actually like to try new things.
Pragmatists might be willing to use new technology, if it's the only way to get their problem solved.
Conservatives dislike new technology and try to avoid it.
Laggards pride themselves on the fact that they are the last to try anything new.
This drawing reflects the fact that there is no smooth or logical transition between the Early Adopters and the Pragmatists. In between the Early Adopters and the Pragmatists there is a chasm. To successfully sell your product to the Pragmatists, you must "cross the chasm".
The knowledge that the needs of early adopters and those of the majority of your potential user base differ significantly is extremely important when building and marketing any technology product. A lot of companies have ended up either building the wrong product or focusing their product too narrowly because they listened too intently to their initial customer base without realizing that they were talking to early adopters.
The fact is that early adopters have different problems and needs from regular users. This is especially true when you compare the demographics of the Silicon Valley early adopter crowd which "Web 2.0" startups often try to court with the typical users of social software on the Web. In the few years I've been working on building Web applications, I've seen a number of technology trends and products that have been heralded as the next big thing by technology pundits which actually never broke into the mainstream because they don't solve the problems of regular Internet users. Here are some examples
Blog Search: A few years ago, blog search engines were all the rage. You had people like Marc Cuban talking up IceRocket and Robert Scoble harranguing Web search companies to build dedicated blog search engines. Since then the products in that space have either given up the ghost (e.g. PubSub, Feedster), turned out to be irrelevant (e.g. Technorati, IceRocket) or were sidelined (e.g. Google Blog Search, Yahoo! Blog Search). The problem with this product category is that except for journalists, marketers and ego surfing A-list bloggers there aren't many people who need a specialized feature set around searching blogs.
Social bookmarking: Although del.icio.us popularized a number of "Web 2.0" trends such as tagging, REST APIs and adding social features to a previously individual task, it has never really taken off as a mainstream product. According to the former VC behind the service it seems to have peaked at 2 million unique visitors last year and is now seeing about half that number of unique users. Compare that to Yahoo! bookmarks which was seeing 20 million active users a year and a half ago.
- RSS Readers: I've lost track of all of the this is the year RSS goes mainstream articles I've read over the past few years. Although RSS has turned out to be a key technology which powers a number of interesting functionality behind the scenes (e.g. podcasting) actually subscribing and reading news feeds in an RSS reader has not become a mainstream activity of Web users. When you think about it, it is kind of obvious. The problem an RSS reader solves is "I read so many blogs and news sites on daily basis, I need a tool to help me keep them all straight". How many people who aren't enthusiastic early adopters (i) have this problem and (ii) think they need a tool to deal with it?
These are just the first three that came to mind. I'm sure readers can come up with more examples of their own. This isn't to say that all hyped "Web 2.0" sites haven't lived up to their promise. Flickr is an example of an early adopter hyped site that showed up sprinkled with "Web 2.0" goodness that has become a major part of the daily lives of tens of millions of people across the Web.
When you look at the list of top 50 sites in the U.S. by unique visitors it is interesting to note what common theme unites the recent "Web 2.0" entrants into that list. There are the social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook which harness the natural need of young people to express their individuality yet be part of social cliques. Then there are the sites which provide lots of flexible options that enable people to share their media with their friends, family or the general public such as Flickr and YouTube. Both sites also have figured out how to harness the work of the few to entertain and benefit the many as have Wikipedia and Digg as well. Then there are sites like Fling and AdultFriendFinder which seem to now get more traffic than the personal sites you see advertised on TV for obvious reasons.
However the one overriding theme is that all of these recent entrants is that they solve problems that everyone [or at least a large section of the populace] has. Everyone likes to communicate with their social circle. Everyone likes watching funny videos and looking at couple pics. Everyone wants to find information about topics they interested in or find out what's going on around them. Everybody wants to get laid.
If you are a Web 2.0 company in today's Web you really need to ask yourselves, "Are we solving a problem that everybody has or are we building a product for Robert Scoble?"
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