21st century technology adoption curves and Facebook and innovation

Everything changes. Now one of the changes that has intrigued me this past decade is in the nature of the technology adoption curve. Simply put, for most of my life, I was used to a particular adoption curve. In order to experiment with emerging technologies, you had to be 28-40, a high-achieving professional, working for a company in aerospace, defence, high-end manufacturing or investment banking. Before 28 you didn’t have the seniority, after 40 you were past experimenting and having fun, you spent all your time in the paranoid timewasting that characterises so much of large-organisation behaviour.

All that changed with Generation M. The pyramid sort of inverted overnight, as the mobile multitasking multimedia generation caught hold of life in their inimitable way. Now it’s the 14-25 year old who first gets to play.

I’ve known this for a while, and regularly referred to this inversion. But there were other aspects of this inversion that continued to intrigue me, inspired by reading Michael Schrage’s Serious Play many years ago. The connection between play and work, something that has come to the fore more resonantly with MMOG and Second Life and all that jazz.

When I saw the Netvibes ecosystem grow, I had the opportunity to watch this curve evolve and grow, and something stirred within me. There was something I could really learn from plotting it right, but in the end I moved on in my ADD way and sadly forgot about it. More recently, when I was watching the explosion taking place in Facebook Applications, I thought to myself, wow, what a proxy for the adoption curve. I had a second chance to view the culture in the petri dish.

What am I talking about? Have I finally completely lost it? Patience, patience. I’m going to try and cut and paste the list of current applications in Facebook Platforms:

I think there’s  a big lesson for us all in the data presented above. Just For Fun leads, then comes Utility some way behind, then comes Gaming. Music, Photo, Video and Messaging bunch up a little later, and Business is around half the size of any one of those.

I’m sure someone can write an app that plots the movement of numbers in each of these classifications over time, or make it possible for someone else to do it. Any views, Dave? Enjoying your travels?

Now this is the supply side. What would be even more interesting is the demand side and how that behaves across these classifications? How many people are using applications in each classification? I accept there is risk of misclassification or fuzzy overlaps, but I am not looking for exact sciences here, I think the trend information is good enough.

Any comments or views? Have I finally lost it? Let me know what you think.

3 thoughts on “21st century technology adoption curves and Facebook and innovation”

  1. JP, I think you may be on to something; but, amateur anthropologist that I am, I believe very strongly that supply-and-demand data need to be gathered and examined at both the microlevel and the macrolevel (which you have used as your point of departure). Furthermore, as you suggested, both of these levels need to be analyzed diachronically, that is, attending to how they unfold in time, rather than how any “instance-snapshot” looks. Also, whatever the age numbers may be for technology adoption, I still subscribe to Mark Twain’s aphorism about how our appreciation of age (his father in his case) advances along with the years we have lived. However, while Twain made his remark with a certain sense of comfortable satisfaction with the aging process, I see more of a “tragic sense of being.”

    Think about it. To invoke my Heidegerrian language again, we only really begin to appreciate our experiences of being-in-the-world once we have progressed beyond the age of 40. I would argue that this is the case because of all that biological evidence that addresses how past experiences bias present perceptions; and, in the way we tend to live today, 40 is about the age by which we have accumulated an experience base with a fair amount of both breadth and depth. As you point out, however, it is also the age at which we leave the “fun of the trenches” and succumb to the more deadening aspects of the workplace.

    I have been staring at my screen for the last five minutes agonizing over whether or not I want to invoke the noun “wisdom.” I really want to avoid it because of the ways in which the noun-games that have been brought on by knowledge management frenzy have robbed most of our common-sense vocabulary of all of its meaning. Let me, instead, continue with the vocabulary I was using in the last paragraph and suggest that, for all the claptrap that grew up along with knowledge management faddism, we still do not really comprehend the nature of that experience base at the level of either the individual or any of the communities in which that individual is embedded; and, since we understand it so poorly, we are equally inadequate in our efforts to leverage it, to engage the past as a valuable resource when confronting the issues of the present.

    Much as these paragraphs may have sounded like a digression, they really are not. It may well be that while databases and “knowledge bases” may have failed us in our attempt to achieve a better understanding of personal experiences, the right mix of macroanalysis and microanalysis of behavior in a rich social environment like Facebook may yield more viable results, both in enhancing our understanding and enablish those experiences to be leveraged in present behavior. Perhaps I am being too optimistic about how much of the human condition we can ultimately grasp, but I think the trail your a beginning to blaze deserves serious attention!

  2. Sometimes, I wished that all this wasn’t true.

    Innovation is so disruptive and straight-from-the-garage now that retaining the traditionality of entrepreneurship is becoming difficult. If I wish to venture into the M domain, I really need to be a junkie or a geek. On the other hand, industry-wide ventures which address certain core problems in a specific domain (e.g information security) still need that ‘adoption curve’.


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