Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Have We Crossed The Chasm?

Geoffrey Moore wrote Crossing the Chasm over 15 years ago and it's still probably the foremost framework used for launching new technology products. Wikipedia gives a nice summary to the theories basic premise:

"Moore's key insight is that the groups adopt innovations for different reasons. Early adopters are technology enthusiasts looking for a radical shift, where the early majority want a "productivity improvement". The latter group want a whole product, where the earlier group only needs the core product, and has the technical competence, and financial resources to make the rest themselves."

However, it struck me as I see more and more Agencies using this framework as their basis for go to market planning, that some significant things have changed since '91 that haven't been accounted for in Moore's original model.

One of the key foundations of the model is how they define usage by groups which brings a key question to the forefront of our current marketing reality. Has the definition of an early adopter changed? "Early adopters" are classically considered those who are willing to try virtually any new technology versus the "mainstream customers" that are much bigger in number but more cautious in adopting new technologies. But in that generation that grew up with the network and doesn't even 'SEE' technology per say (the notion that technology has become biology), is this great divide still relevant?

And that leaves me wondering one important and looming question. When it comes to technology, have we crossed the chasm? And if so does that mean the entire model of influence needs to be rethought?

update: Couple points of clarification

1. A few people have made the comment that my usage of the term technology is pretty vague and noted that there are still new technologies that fit under Moore's model. I should have been more specific that I was referring to many of the new launches of products and services on the Web (social networking, micro-blogging, SaaS, wireless handsets etc.) that are being marketed as "new" technologies in a revolutionary vs. evolutionary form. I still content that for Gen Y they don't see these services as technology the way my generation and older has. They don't go on the network - the network is ubiquitous connected and pervasively proximate (UCaPP) as my friend Mark Federman would say

2. To ladder on that point above, my other main point wasn't questioning the entire model, but suggesting that we may want to relook at how an early adopter is defined now that there has been a blurring between them and the mass. Anyone can be an influencer and our traditional (if i can say traditional) notions of the "geek" as driving market adoption may be flawed


srini said...

The way I have come to see the chasm: there's ALWAYS a chasm.

Startups all around the world are going up blithely against MS, Google, all the big players all the time. Why do they do this? Because they see a chasm that the big players don't see. The payoff for this discernment? The chance to create a Myspace, YouTube or Facebook.

The chasm means "everybody isn't using it yet, not by a long shot." So you have a fraction of humanity that right now even has computers. The chasm in the case of a Google Search is basically "the digital divide", which will eventually get leapfrogged by OLPC-like laptops as the OTHER moore's law keeps chugging along.

Profitable companies get hypnotized by the magic of revenues. They fix on their current early adopter customers and totally forget to create a tool for the masses. Video online used to require hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and software; YouTube blew that barrier to smithereens, because they saw the chasm Real et al ignored.

- srini

Leigh said...


I agree that there is and will always be a chasm. However, I guess the real question in my mind is, is it a marketing chasm (or awareness/usage chasm) or is it a technology adoption chasm.

If one can't see technology, and if one doesn't perceive new products/services as technology, then how does that change the model?

As for you point regarding the focus on start ups on early adopters at expense of mass market, i tend to agree. Alex Iskold had a good post on that on ReadWriteWeb which sites Tara Hunt who thinks the same thing...If my point holds any water, it gives much more credibility to that argument.

Dave Ambrose said...

Nice post. I found Srini's comment and then your response interesting, specifically the digital native/"chasm" connection.

At it's core, the "chasm" doesn't necessarily exist for my generation as there never was one to begin with. Sure, that means that digital natives have to be using every piece of new technology all the time/everyday, but I see it almost as, "Where do the digital natives find most utility?" Answer: With the common technology they use day after day.

I wrote a bit more on this idea following your post:


fiat lux said...

Technology adoption may possibly have crossed the chasm, but that does not mean that technology-based innovations can safely ignore the chasm.

YouTube is widely popular, but that does not guarantee success for the makers of Flip video cameras (for example).

Bob Warfield said...

Rather than throw the chasm out with the bathwater, consider that maybe it has moved, but that it is still defined the same way.

In other words, what if there are still early adopters, but that there are just a lot more of them today than there were back when Moore first wrote about the Chasm.

What might it mean? For one thing, the Early Adopters might be large enough to represent an interesting business. Hasn't the Long Tail taught us we can make businesses out of audiences that used to be too expensive to reach?

More on my blog:


pffft said...

Interesting post.

I think you'd have to be using an extraordinarily narrow view of "technology" to say that we're blind to technology.

Perhaps there may be cycles where for a few years there are mainly incremental advances in technology and people seem to get accustomed to "technology", but there will definitely always be new technologies with new early adopters.

Your view of technology seems to be one of internet and consumer tech. What about biotech? What about pharma? What about materials and nano-tech science?

Do you think that the mainstream of US consumers is ready for cloning technologies? Artificial meat? Complete genetic profiling.

Moore's curve is a description of the way in which societies adopt new technologies in a broad sense. The day the progression of technology slows to the point that there are no more early adopters is the day we've reached a new dark ages.

Leigh said...

@fiat I don't disagree but I guess what is considered a technology innovation needs to be reconsidered and even so I still think to @Dave's point that Gen Y sees it's different

@Bob...good post and great links on it as well. tnx for that

Sean M said...

A better way to look at this question is to step back and think about what an 'early adopter' really means. For example, on some things I'm bleeding edge, on other things I'm not. Nobody is just one 'thing'. There isn't a magical group out there that's essentially the tech equivalent of a meth addict fiending for their next fix.

And this isn't just a modern phenomenon - I believe this to be a universal human truth.

I guess my point is that chasms aren't as cut and dry as they look in the graphic above, it's more of a psychological effect of human nature, and human nature will never really change. Some people seek to fulfull a specific need or simply decide to play around with new 'stuff', others see the benefits reaped by those early adopters and decide to give it a shot, once proven or accepted the masses start to follow along, and eventually the luddites follow.

The same thought process could be applied to the adoption of the wheel or the domestication of animals :-)

This leads into your point Gen Y and the digital natives, of which I'm sort of a hybrid despite being Gen Y by chronology (my mom worked in high tech so I had computers and the net at a younger age than most in my generation). This generation isn't just 'one thing'. Sure, there are kids who do nothing but generate content and post online all day. There are also 16 year old luddites, and everything in between.

srini said...


Early adopters don't just "buy". They MODIFY. They take existing technologies, such as Twitter, and warp them into new uses that pretty much only they absolutely need.

Entrepreneurs say, "hey, _segment_ could really USE that particular custom edition if we refine it" and they cross a chasm. Steve Jobs sees the GUI and goes, "dude everyone needs that," and does what it takes to bring it to market.

Often enough these entrepreneurs get satisfied, then THEY get their chasms crossed. We think this is because of a fundamental dynamic deficiency in engineer-driven firms. Once you cross the English Channel, you keep fighting until you reach Berlin. You don't just languish in Paris.

It's a MARKETING DEFICIENCY, because the entire crossing the chasm argument related to MARKET SELECTION. Most companies when they approach marketing segment very badly, so they spend their money on hunting for more early adopters rather than developing chasm-crossing products and promotions.

Leigh said...


You raise an interesting point - in fact, I would buy a new model that looks at technology modifiers (vs. early adopters).

But while I am sure they might play a deeper potential role in product development, whether or not their importance for appeal and later adoption is still as it's modeled in Moore's book is a different question.

Trevor Speirs said...

Good comments everyone. They have advanced an interesting discussion.

My view is that the model applies to new ideas as opposed to "technology". This way "technology-blindness" does not apply.

New ideas are new product/service concepts that are beyond an incremental innovation. These ideas represent new learning or change to the population - something the early majority would not prefer to undertake without a strong value proposition.

Taking the twitter example used above: The early adopters are using this "new idea" form of communication. The early adopters have not embraced it in mass not because of its new technology, but because it represents a new way of communicating that they would have to learn and in its current form the value proposition to this group is still unpolished.

So, if we change the Chasm model to apply to new ideas (and we can polish this term) it would still apply.

Bill Seitz said...

I think it's a huge mistake to think there's a single "technology" which has or doesn't have a chasm.

Email may have crossed the chasm. Twitter has not.

scott said...

Leigh - In recent user lab research, we observed some phenomena that suggest (1) chasms/gaps still exist and (2) they may be more rooted in basic cognition issues than anything else.

I put some of the observations up on...

Leigh said...

@Scott interesting research thanks!

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