In business school marketing we talk quite a bit about product diffusion, in entrepreneur and strategy classes we talk about technology or innovation diffusion. We use fun terms like Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards and plot against the Diffusion Curve. Books that talk about Crossing the Chasm have sold out of countless bookstores, physical and virtual alike. Yet I’m constantly reminded of how difficult it is for something to become truly ubiquitous whenever I visit my hometown of Placerville.
This smallish town I grew up in is located in Northern California. Despite it’s geographic proximity to Silicon Valley, only 2 hours traffic willing, it’s a world away. My mom is just now able to get DSL and she’s asked me to help set it up while I’m home for Christmas, she doesn’t realize you just plug the thing in. My wife’s parents are still unable to get anything but a spotty Verizon wireless connection.
I’ve spent a good deal of this trip using my extended family and long-time friends as an unknowing focus group. Here is what I’ve found (in first person): the internet is a tool I use or a thing I visit when I have time, it doesn’t get in the way of my real-life; I don’t subscribe to any blogs, why would I care what some random people have to say? (also, what’s an RSS feed?); What’s Twitter?… oh, that’s, um, interesting – I don’t have time for that. Skype, with its ubiquitous nature, sports between 13 and 20 million users at a time – that’s a lot to be sure but compared to 300M American’s that’s well under 10%.
Don’t misunderstand, my research subjects are smart people. These are people who’ve run successful businesses, are viewed as leaders in their community, have college degrees and in some case graduate degrees but their lives aren’t as intertwined with things that I take for granted as an MBA at a respected research university in one of the foremost technology hubs.
I can’t help but think, if this is what things are like in a town in California there are probably more places like it across the US than are like Seattle. What opportunities lay in wait for those who are able to Cross the Chasm and bring something of real (or perceived) value to these people we classify as Early and Late Majority in the towns and cities of Texas, Michigan, the Carolina’s and the like?