I know I just quoted a Dare Obasanjo post a couple days ago but it really is good to see him back and I think the post that inspired this blog entry is one everyone should read.
In the post, entitled "Note to Web 2.0 Companies: Early Adopters are not the Mass Market", he makes the point that the needs of the mainstream usually don't jive with those of the rest of the population. Here's a quote...
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
I really enjoyed this post and hope everyone checks it out. But I wanted to briefly give my own thoughts on this particular point. Or more accurately, an argument I always hear when making the point he's making.
The argument basically goes like this: Early adopters are enough to sustain a company indefinitely. So a company should court early adopters because they are the eventual trend setters. As the mainstream sees how much easier the early adopters life is made by new technology they will, little by little, migrate over. The point of this being the mainstream will eventually have to accept "Web 2.0" services on their own terms so there's no point is tailoring a service to the mainstream.
This argument tends to rely on the service scaling down. So you'll get people who say "sure mainstream users don't track 200 web sites like I do but once they see how easy it is for me to track 200 web sites they'll rush to track their 12 favorite web sites in the same way"
Two points here:
First, Early Adopters are Fickle.
The problem with trying to survive on early adopters until the mainstream catches on is that they fall in love with every new thing. Robert Scoble had no sooner added all 500 of his friends before he ditched Facebook for Twitter. That lasted for about a month before he moved on to Friendfeed. and so on.
Scoble's one who makes a business out of cultivating his audience so he continues to update the platforms he's essentially abandoned but most early adopters aren't so courteous.
Early adopters will never sustain a company because you can't appeal to someone who compulsively wants the newest thing. Your product can only be the newest thing for so long.
Second, most Web 2.0 products don't actually solve a problem
At the risk of being controversial, most of these "Web 2.0" companies are given a lot of lip service because early adopters love the concept but aren't very useful in the long term. Does anyone really pay attention to their friend's del.icio.us links? Maybe occasionally, when they have extra time on their hands and absolutely nothing to do, but mostly not. If del.icio.us disappeared tomorrow I doubt anyone would be impacted that negatively.
Blog Search is another example. Sure vanity searching is nice but hardly necessary. For most useful searches a standard Google search will serve your purpose much better. The list goes on and on. Whether its Friendfeed creating so much noise that it drowns out the useful content or Facebook which claims to keep you in touch with friends but actually just allows you to send them virtual cocktails most Web 2.0 services don't solve a problem at all.
So unless your world is largely online and you're just looking for more ways to spend time connected these services don't help. They certainly don't improve a person's life to the extent that a normal person would be envious of.
Though it really wasn't the point I started out trying to make I guess my point is to expand on what Mr. Obasanjo said. Web 2.0 startups don't just need to focus on solving a mass market problem they need to focus on solving a problem in general. Early adopters will love you just because your new but the mainstream requires a lot more to come on board. When trying to find that "lot more" usefulness is, as always, a good place to start.
Addendum: Sorry for the double post to anyone who subscribes via RSS. The link was broken, when I tried to fix it the post disappeared for as yet unknown reasons (and lets be honest, I'm not going to look into is so its really a mystery for the ages)