At the Chasm

Sunday, February 15, 2009 Sunday, February 15, 2009

There's been some discussion lately about whether SL is sufficiently easy to use by the general public. I'm not so sure, and here's my thinking.

There's an interesting social phenomenon, first described by author Geoffrey Moore in his book, "Crossing the Chasm". Moore proposes that in general, people react differently to technology change. In fact, there are several categories of change reactions:

  • Innovators. These are the folks who "invent" the change. The ones with the screwdrivers. The like the change; they make it happen.
  • Early Adopters. These people like change just to be different. They will endure any pain or trouble simply to be able to say "we did it!"
  • Pragmatists. This group is interested in embracing the change, but will do so only if they gain from it. It is not sufficient for them to "just do it". They have to get a return for their trouble. And that return might be money, could be fun, but it is substantial.
  • Conservatives. Like the Pragmatists, the Conservatives want the return on their investment of time and effort, but they will not tolerate any trouble. It must be a smooth experience, without difficulty. Any slight issues are enough to put them off and they will disappear. It's got to be easy for them.
  • Skeptics. The final group simply does not want to change under any circumstances. No logic or benefits will convince them to take the effort to make a change.

As you can see on the chart, there are typical percentages associated with each category that are found within populations subjected to change. You may scoff at this analysis, but I've personally found these percentages were almost *exactly* as predicted in several real life situations.

Is that all there is? No! There are several key implications derived from this model:

  • Don't bother trying to convince the Skeptics. You can't.
  • New technology services must be easy to use, or you won't get the large group of Conservatives to participate.
  • Usage growth at the beginning is different than Pragmatist and Conservative growth.

The "chasm" Moore speaks of refers to the problem of startup companies who invent a useful, but tricky product. They find Innovators and Early Adopters rush to use it, and foolishly extrapolate their growth curve right through the other categories. Of course, the Pragmatists and especially the Conservatives don't react well to tricky products, and the company's growth stalls. Companies have to find a way to "cross the chasm" between tricky and mainstream products or they die.

Where is SL? I believe it's right on the precipice of the chasm. It's attracted all the Innovators and Early Adopters that likely exist and are interested. Growth suddenly stabilized a while ago, and that's when we hit the edge of the chasm. In fact, have you ever noticed that most of the people on your friends list are creators of something? Other than newbies, who tend to disappear, most of us are creative types. The newbies who disappear are not.

What is SL to do? Clearly, if it is to grow it must find a way to cross the chasm. They will do that by simplifying things significantly, and M's plan of making the initial experience better goes along those lines. But there is much more to do, especially in the viewer. But more about that another day.
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Anonymous said...

I agree. In fact, I wrote about this on February 1st, in my blog article on TheSLRevolution titled: Avatar's Invade The Superbowl

My conclusion in my post was:

"Despite no direct promotion for Second Life or other Virtual worlds, the new Coke commercial will obviously help the already accelerating acceptance of Avatars and Virtual Worlds into everyday life. It will likely also serve as a bridge across “The Chasm” between “Early Adopters & Visionaries” and the “Early Majority Pragmatists” on the technology adoption curve."

It remains to be seen whether Linden Lab's latest efforts will be enough to get Second Life over "The Chasm" in one piece. "As a technology enthusiast and early adopter/visionary," I look forward to welcoming the next wave of virtual world adopters to the other side. The view from here is amazing!

Anonymous said...

Yes, this makes sense.

In the case of SL, that peak point, that hill that's to be crossed, is very high. While SL is a paradise for creative people, it's boring corner of the Hell for the rest. take a look and see what it has to offer? For creatives it gives all the different toys to play and create. Yes, it's sometimes broken, but that's the price, creative people are usually willing to pay. And it's easy to use (for them) and offers more than one area of creativity and shared experience.

For the others, it is just a colorful 3D chatroom, hard to learn (for them), too unstable and gets boring after a short while. What it gives back? Nothng much. Games are running smoother. Chat can be done in text box. Possible profit is peanuts.

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