07 May 2008

Emergence and Adpoption

I've been contemplating Ray's comment on Twitter emergence - the idea that we are defining how to use it as we use it. Take Facebook, which began as a digital analog to the classic frat boy's "menu" and has now become a strong targeted advertising platform beyond the reach of Google, after looping around the cul-de-sac of becoming "the new Desktop" (so far, it turns out most Facebook apps are pretty silly). Twitter has gone through an even more impressive growth, evolving- from "What Are You Doing?" in 140 characters or less to a marketing tool, conference and event live microblogging, friendsourcing, even getting out of jail.

Now, this is great if mavens truly are super early adopters who ultimately reflect the needs of the greater group. And that model works for goods that have a long design, manufacture and feedback process and consumers who do not expect a high level of customization. But what happens if early adopters create a usage model that isn't useful for anyone else, essentially creating a ghetto of Twitterati and a majority public who find the tool useless?

The reason I have been thinking about emergence and adoption through this lens lately is due to a recent finding that, although Hungarians are increasingly net-savvy, there are very few Hungarian bloggers. Is this because Hungarians are still behind in terms of web tool adoption, because they are so far ahead they have already outgrown blogging, or is it because blog culture developed without them and has gelled in a form that isn't relevant to Hungarians?

Why should we care about Hungarian bloggers? you ask. Well, because they are in a unique position of having been held back from the steady progress of technology experiences in the US and Western Europe, then rapidly dropped into it. Until recently, due to various economic and logistical reasons, internet in the home was very very uncommon so the hungarian web still partied like it was 1999. I could just as easily have looked at web users in India calling email obsolete, I just happen to be more familiar with the Magyars. I know that when the Iron Curtain came down they stayed far behind in fashion for almost a decade, but jumped ahead of Americans in terms of mobile phone and PDA adoption.

So, which is it with blogging? To find out, I tracked a common word ("megyek" which means "I am going" so ought to be used frequently in tweets) on Twitter, then checked out these folks' profiles to see who they are following and being followed by. And guess what? The Hungarians love the Twitter. It makes sense - they don't need to tweet in english or use an english-based GUI to do so, they can do it all from their handhelds, which they are already highly comfortable with. Blogging isn't merely passe, it's just not that useful to a hungarian.

So, what does that mean for us? I think the lesson is that it's important to push beyond early adopters while a new tool or technology is in its adolescence. This gives the average user some structure to start from, but room to still influence what it will become as it matures, ensuring it isn't just a cool, shiny toy.