Google+ and the Technology Adoption Lifecycle

In 1957, Joe Bohlen, George Beal and Everett Rogers published The Diffusion Process for the Agriculture Extension Service of Iowa State College. It focused on which farmers were buying hybrid corn. The work was later generalized into Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers. Typically, adopters of innovations are organized into five groups, the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and the laggards. It seems to be a useful way of looking at even the innovations in online social networks of today, somewhat.

The caveat is that when a new innovation comes out from Google, everyone tries to jump on board right away and this messes up the whole process. So, for example, Google+ reportedly already has 4.5 million users. Facebook reported has 750 million users. So, Google has just over one half of one percent of the users that Facebook has. This would seem to suggest that the vast majority of users should be ‘innovators’, since in the typical diffusion model, the first 2.5% are innovators.

However, from all that I am seeing, I question whether that is really the case. It seems as if there are others who are kicking the tires, and perhaps even saying negative stuff about Google+ because they are non-innovators using a tool that is still really only ready for innovators.

This came to mind in a tweet chat, where people were complaining that they didn’t know what problem Google+ was trying to solve. I would suggest this is a non-innovators way of looking at a recent innovation. In that discussion, I quote Robert F Kennedy’s famous line "Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" I would suggest that this characterizes the innovators approach. The innovator doesn’t look at an innovation and ask what problem it was created to solve. The innovator revels in exploring the innovation for its own sake, for the joy of exploration and innovation. The innovator comes up with ideas about how the innovation could be used.

To me, that is the state that Google+ is in right now. There are a lot of interesting aspects about how it could be used waiting to be explored. One friend, who self-identifies as an innovator described one of the things he is enjoying about the Google+ experience right now, is the feeling of “we’re all figuring this out together”. That is an innovator’s perspective, and I join with him in enjoying this phase of the innovati8on.

Another friend wrote, “After playing with Google+ a bit and contemplating several applications to community building, I could feel my brain frying”. She talked about feeling the need to disconnect. While I am glad she is on Google+, it may not yet be her time. My innovator friends and I will explore what can be done with Google+. Then, my early adopter friend will see one of those things that clicks for her, and she will run with it. She will do some fantastic community building using the innovation along with the ideas that innovators have come up with how to use it. Either that, or my innovator friends and I will not come up with ideas that resonate for her and other early adopters, and Google+ will need to go through more changes before it is ready for early adopters. Perhaps, even, the innovators won’t find anything at all, in the time frame that Google is looking at, and they will pull the plug, prematurely in the eyes of various innovators, like they have with Google Wave or Google Health.

Of course, once an early adopter finds the application of the innovation that resonates, and starts using it, that is when things take off. This is what the early majority sees and what draws them in; not only the innovation, but the community of practice and the best practices they have established, and most importantly a simple way that they can see how it makes their lives better.

One problem is that the late majority and the laggards, who generally don’t like change, will spend their time complaining about how the change really isn’t all the beneficial. In previous days, they might not start their griping until the innovation has already started being picked up by the early majority, and by then it is too late. However, today, with everything happening instantaneously, the laggards are managing to read enough about innovations like Goolge+ to start attacking it right away. As an innovator, I can only wonder how many innovations die because of this.

So, are you on Google+? Do you consider yourself an innovator? An Early adopter? Part of the Early Majority, the Late Majority, or a laggard? How does your approach to the diffusion of innovations relate to your reaction to Google+?