When Early Adopters Ruled the World

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Academics, Industry Research, Technology, Tools/Gadgets
Tags: , ,

July 23, 2010- http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978389762

Are you an early adopter or a laggard? Are you neither? Do you even know what these labels mean? Every technology company does, and how you respond to this question determines their relative level of interest in you as a tech consumer.

Incase you have never before encountered these terms, here’s a quick synopsis: Everett Rogers’ “diffusion of innovations” model organizes people based on how long it takes for them to adopt and adapt to new technologies.

Rogers’ theory comprises five groups. First, the “innovators,” which should be relatively straightforward. These are the people who are inventing and pushing the envelope. Next, the “early adopters” are big believers and big influencers who adopt technology right as it enters the market. The “early majority” follows. Those who belong to this group listen to early adopters and, based on their review and expert reviews of technology, will generally adopt and adapt to innovations. The “late majority” are those who are largely skeptical of emerging technologies, but realize when new technology becomes omnipresent that it’s time to get on the bandwagon. Last, but by no means least are the “laggards,” the strong skeptics who often blatantly disregard new technologies and publicly reject the latest innovations.

Laggards may often end up adopting technology further down the road, but can actually miss whole stages of innovation in between. For instance, a laggard might go straight from a Walkman to an iPhone without ever owning a single CD or minidisc.
But how does this all really break down into numbers? Early adopters generally only represent 13.5 per cent of the population, while early majority and late majority members represent 34 per cent each, making for a combined 68 per cent of us. The laggards represent just slightly more than the early adopters, at 16 per cent of the population. But why, then, does it feel as if everyone already owns (and complains about) an iPhone 4?

One theory is that early adopters and innovators are the most talkative about new technology. They love to show off their new gadgets and discuss them constantly.  The early majority and late majority assume everyone else has already heard enough about their gadgets by the time they acquire them. For laggards, chances are they are only interested in the fact that their technology works the way they want it to. Beyond that, their interest in the subject pales.
For these reasons early adopters and even the early majority have often been the darlings of the technology sector, who mostly focus their marketing and advertising on this 47.5 per cent segment of the population. However, now that the interwebs have been around for a while and we can reflect on some of the early fervor that the Web incited, some who were early web app and website adopters are now beginning to regret the information they put out there so early.

After all, the web has proven to be incredibly sticky with information, and increasingly website privacy controls evolve over time just as much as any consumer hardware design. That means the information entered ten years ago might be in the same condition as when you inputted it, but it might be visible to about 10 million more eyes than it was in the very beginning. In addition, consumer reviews of new gadgets, especially groundbreaking new efforts by technology companies, increasingly seem to suggest that the first generation of anything isn’t actually ready to own.

Do these frequent, and increasingly public failures in high-tech gadgetry suggest that a new era may emerge where late majority and laggard segments of technology consumers may be growing? If so, will technology companies begin to market more to laggards, and if so, how exactly would that look?

To quote an expression oft-used by a laggard friend of mine, “only time will tell.”


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