Sometimes I wonder whether people have forgotten why we do what we do. Most people who blog do it because they have a passion for what they are writing about. Many people creating these fancy Web 2.0 sites are doing it because there is some passion for what they are doing. Even “how to be successful” guides highlight that you should have passion for your work if you want to be successful. Given this need for passion, I find it interesting that people are trying to focus on the mainstream users. Granted, the big reason for this is massive traffic and huge revenue, but how do you get there? You have to start somewhere, right? We have all seen the graphs:
Robert Scoble talks about this a bit in his post about Passionates and Non-Passionates.
Some things that I’ve noticed about late adopters (er, non-passionates) and how they use computers they really are much different than the passionates who I usually hang out with. They really don’t care about 99% of the things I care about.
I agree with his point, but it is the timing of things that is the real issue. Robert uses the examples of Amazon and Google as sites that found passionate users. However, they are very mainstream companies at this point. How did they become mainstream? They persevered. Amazon’s book store was a cheap way to buy books, almost any book you could find. This was in a time when ecommerce barely existed. Now, ecommerce for the consumer generates several billions of dollars of revenue and it is continuously growing. However, Amazon and Google started with passionate users, and eventually gained mainstream acceptance.
Dare Obasanjo made some good points a while ago regarding early adopters and the mainstream user.
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.
I understand what he is saying, focus on the mainstream and listen a little the early adopters. This should be the target for any site that wants mass adoption. He is absolutely correct, somewhat. Early adopters tend to fuel the early hype for a new service. The initial hype tends to be really big, and eventually it does cool off. However, the sites that do make it big take time. Steve Spalding had a great post about what he called The Web’s Dirty Little Secret.
The companies that have managed to make the largest profits on the web, aren’t non-contextual social conversation tools. The ones bringing in profits have found ways to tap into the needs of the mainstream — Amazon, Google, eBay, Craigslist et al.
He mentions some really big successes as did Robert and Dare. For some reason, they all missed the critical element, time. The first users of any internet service will be passionate because the early adopter set tends to fall in love with new tools. Call it what you want, but if it works and it is shiny, many early adopters will flock to it. However, the early adopters are just the first stage of acceptance. After the early adopter acceptance, the site needs to expand and mature. New features need to be added, stability must be maintained. The site must adapt and evolve. The real question needs to be, how can we evolve the service so that mainstream users love the product too? You do not want to lose your passionate early adopters because they are free publicity. They are free product research. They are the ones you can thank if your service hits the mainstream. In order to keep most of the early adopters and gain mainstream acceptance, the evolution takes time. How many years did it take for ecommerce to get into the billions in revenue? How many years did it take for “google” to become a verb? We are talking about 3 to 5 years for most of these types of transitions. So why is everyone worried about sites like FriendFeed not catering to the mainstream user? FriendFeed is only about 6 months in the wild. Let’s give some of these sites time to mature. Why are we in such a rush?
8 thoughts on “Passion, Early Adopters and the Mainstream”
Very sensible and well reasoned commentary, Rob. It could take years for some of our favorite services to hit the mainstream. The process really can’t be rushed very much and work effectively.
Bringing up time is a good point, and one that relates to a recent discussion on investors. These VCs that are pouring money into sites like Twitter and FriendFeed are asking for big results quickly, and I think that lends itself to sites targeting those early adopters like Scoble, et al, who can quickly get the word out about the new products.
I agree that we just need to give these sites time to settle in and then we’ll see them appealing more to mainstream users.
I do try to be sensible most of the time. There is enough hype out there without me adding to it.
The time cycle is definitely shortening because of how quickly you can develop some of these services. The problem is that when you shorten the timelines, your revenue becomes more important. Without any revenue generation it does become a little bit of a problem.
I am curious to see what friendfeed looks like in 3 years.
Very well said and well reasoned response. Time is something we have no way of predicting. I tend to subscribe to the fact there is still a missing component in social apps that they’ll need to find in order to attract mainstream crowds, but I am only taking into consideration how society operates right now.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
[…] Passion, Early Adopters and the Mainstream: Sometimes I wonder whether people have forgotten why we do what we do. Most people who blog do it because they have a passion for what they are writing about. Many people creating these fancy Web 2.0 sites are doing it because there is some passion for what they are doing. Even “how to be successful” guides highlight that you should have passion for your work if you want to be successful. Given this need for passion, I find it interesting that people are trying to focus on the mainstream users. Granted, the big reason for this is massive traffic and huge revenue, but how do you get there? You have to start somewhere, right? […]
Interesting post, i wrote one investigating early adopters as well. Here’s the thing, they say the ‘non passionate “late adopters” / Early Adopters are a clearly defined group/category of people. Which is the wrong way of putting it, the so called late adopters for e.g in technology/social media/whatever could be early adopters and passionate about something entirely different in which your typical early adopters are actually ‘late adopters’ get the point?
I.e Technology Enthusiasts not caring about fashion and vice versa. What startups need to do, is figure out not how to create products for a specific group of so called ‘early adopters’ but rather, a group of people who are passionate about something other then just the latest shiny object.
Amazon did with Book Lovers/collectors
Craiglist did with People running their own side businesses/selling personal items
That is a very valid point. Niche sites/services/products are very different, as most of their users are very passionate. However, most niche sites will never have the mass adoption that something like Google and Amazon have. I absolutely agree with having the service evolve into something that helps build its audience, like the Book Lovers from Amazon. Creating a niche product based on your original product is the great way to create several revenue streams.
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