Wednesday, June 23, 2010

User Adoption: A War with Two Fronts

I know, I ride Rogers' old horse beyond its intended range, but it just stays a useful model for a lot of what I do.

We can identify a point in an acceptance life-cycle with a vertical bar perpendicular to the x axis and somewhere along it. Then essentially we can say that we've got the population to the left of that line on board, and the ones to the right are the resistors we are still trying to win over. So the traditional model in my mind has been "resistance lines up on the right."

But I'm becoming increasingly aware of a negative image to that model, where resistance lines up on the left. Innovators and early adopters will resist efforts to lower the entry threshhold to a technology, preferring to keep the club exclusive. "We had to learn it the hard way, so should they." Or "If you make it too easy, then anyone will be able to [do my job][look as smart as me]."

There are so many examples that I am embarrassed it took me this long to notice it to where I could articulate it. Linux/Unix "We don't need no stinkin' GUI" VCR vs. film, digital camera vs. film, sites like this one vs. hard coding HTML.

This means any user adoption campaign is essentially a war waged on two fronts: Trying to entice the later adopters to come on board while battling resistance from the early adopters to anything that makes it easy for them.

I suspect this problem is most pronounced in non-profit and governmental organizations that are not as driven by the economics of user adoption as commercial enterprises are. I also suspect it is higher in technology communities. No data, just hunches.

Sounds like a good conversation for over beers after your next professional association meeting. Do me a favor and save the napkins for me.


Larry said...

Resistance lines up on the right, true. But what's really lining up on the left? Is it really resistance? Or is it just cranky kvetching?

In other words, has the squawking from the early adopters had any real effect on the overall acceptance of technology? After all, we have a Linux GUI. We have digital cameras. The line continues to move right, despite the noise from the left.

At least....I think so. I don't have any data to prove it, and I'd love to hear evidence to the contrary. Just having a conversation over beers here.

Ted said...

Resistance on the left takes a different form, I think. On the right we have a mass phenomenon, which is comfortable to think of abstractly: people out there. On the left we have actual individuals with names and faces in our offices and trade groups. Actual sysadmins and support engineers that we have to work with. Much smaller group, but closer to us and harder to engage dispassionately. At least that's how it looks in my life.

Michael Hughes said...

Ted! You have articulated my pain point precisely. Thanks.