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?"

Now Playing: Three 6 Mafia - I'd Rather (feat. DJ Unk)


Wednesday, May 21, 2008 4:22:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great to see you're blogging again Dare. I was really sad that you stopped for a while, even in I completely understood the reasons. Posts like this, and your ReSharper criticism, are why I kept your feed on my list when it was dormant for so long!
Mark Green
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 4:22:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think most people working in social media or other tech-heavy fields have their concept of "everyone" confused with "everyone I know" -- which is other people stuck in the same fishbowl.

Every prospective web company should run their hot new idea past the first 20 people they see on the bus. If less than 4 of those people can actually *use* your prospective product, go back to the drawing board before you go to the VC well.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 7:04:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
That last line is killer.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 7:51:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
But does *every* application have to cater to the mass market? There's plenty of room for "vertical applications" on the web as well -- apps that cater to a niche and feed the particular needs/wants/obsessions of that niche. You just hear about these apps less because they just aren't as interesting for VCs, since while they might be (quite) profitable they will never be the "home run" that a Facebook or a YouTube will.

P.S. Your CAPTCHA image isn't showing up in Firefox 3, I had to switch over to IE (urgh) to post this.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:15:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
There are too many examples going either way to make cherry picking a few particularly meaningful. While I agree that there are lots of ideas on the web that seem to target Scoble with an amazing specificity, I don't know how helpful that knowledge is.

First, it's hard to develop a product that you're not interested in.
Second, if everyone wants something, then it probably exists. So many big names today, say, Microsoft for example, started out by making a product that most people on the bus at the time wouldn't clamor for. Entrepreneurs want to hit the home run, and that often involves developing a product that people don't yet appreciate the value of.
Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:24:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
hmm. of course i agree with the high-level statement, and i agree there's way too many techie-focused site/apps/widgets/etc.

but. not all Web 2.0 sites were built just for Robert Scoble.

there are plenty of examples of more focused "niche" markets & products that *don't* have to be top 100 websites to be successful, and can be quite nimble competing against & around larger players. i'm an angel investor in several startups that i'm very bullish about that fall in this category (Mint, TeachStreet, SlideShare, Simply Hired, etc)

if you want a simple way to test viability without resorting to the TechCrunch / Web 2.0 crowd, just setup an AdWords campaign to drive 100 visitors per day to a set of example landing pages, and see if you can get people to click on a target action / convert to an email address. depending on your keyword vocabulary target & cost, you can probably run this test for under $25/day and get some very good data from the overall random online population.

(extra credit: build your product features *AFTER* you figure out a compelling call-to-action & landing page... and btw, you'll already have a bunch of email addresses for folks who would like to use it).

- dave mcclure
Thursday, May 22, 2008 4:21:17 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Love this article, and Dave's point about seeing what happens if you buy some adwords and tracking response to vet an idea is very true.
Ed Anuff
Thursday, May 22, 2008 6:51:57 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Agreed. One thing I have noticed: the mainstream really don't LIKE the early adopters, and the early adopters REALLY don't like the mainstream. in the first case it's "hackers are weird and steal credit cards"; in the second case it's "n00bz! ! !"

Thursday, May 22, 2008 9:26:01 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
that graph is in relation to technology, fine... the deeper thing is that there are a lot of low consciousness people in the web'o'sphere whose interests have other directions .... they may change the template for their dog salon and pet conversation room someday, but they are thinking about pets, not how to flow information around the world

people into ideas, and ideas about ideas, are very different than people into stuff, or things ... early adapters is a concept only for the former, the rest dont care at all ....
Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:52:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
wonderful post, Dare! being a person who has many Silicon Valley acquaintances, but living in a place that is very removed from that place in many ways (w. massachusetts) I find myself on the pragmatist part of the curve. Primarily because I see first hand out here how hardworking people use various tools. Many text message, some use Flickr, only the college kids bother with Twitter, and many of the career professionals (even in marketing) don't use Facebook and barely acknowledge LinkedIn. So, whenever one of my business crowd associates from the Silly Valley hops up and down about the importance of Twitter, I'm usually the one to say "oh, really?" Thanks again for a great post that backs up what I've always known was going on.
Thursday, May 22, 2008 10:00:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Echoing what Tish said, I work in this web world but live in the real world, and I've had the same observations. It's nice to hear someone say what I've been thinking every time I read a blog post about the "next killer app".
Thursday, May 22, 2008 10:56:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Web2.0 represents the real beginnings of a shift away from PC-based operating systems to Web-based computing. It enables the redefinition of 'clients' from PCs/Macs/Workstations only to include phones, mobile devices, perhaps planes and boats, and perhaps even refrigerators. It represents a huge threat to some of the giants, who by definition stifle innovation, and offer the consumer – be they individual or business users – choices they never had.

So some Web2.0 apps might have staying power and others won’t. But this trend is very real. It will cross the chasm and affect all computer users over time. The name may change but Web 2.0 is here to stay.

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