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Friday, 14 September 2012

Crossing the chasm - innovation diffusion in tech

First articulated in 1991, Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm theory is still relevant and applicable to modern technology diffusion. Moore propounded that in technology, a gap exists between the 'early adopters' and the 'early majority' - in short, between the geeky, tech friendly people who embrace new technologies and the mainstream users who adopt it later, when it becomes stable, accepted and widely spoken about. Crossing the chasm is a challenge for new technologies/ tech ideas which may otherwise stay and die within the circle of enthusiasts.

Here is a picture of the model courtesy readwriteweb:

The question that immediately arises, is which technologies that we know have crossed the chasm and which have not? 

Apple provides an immediate answer to the former question - the iPod, iPhone and iPad have all been revolutionary products which created new categories and paradigms and crossed over from the tech community to mainstream use. Furthermore, the success of iPhone and iPad paved the way for their respective categories (touchscreen smartphones and tablets) to open up in a big way for successors.

The latter question is harder to answer. We cannot define a failed product launch/ brand launch as failing to cross the chasm. By definition the innovation should remain viable within the enthusiast community and sustain usage (therefore it is a good product, otherwise they would have rejected it) and it should fail to spread out from there.

I may risk ire to say this but Linux distros for home/ personal use fall in this category to my mind. Linux continues to sustain lively community support amongst techies but would any mainsteam user consider it seriously instead of Windows? 

We could attribute many reasons for Linux failing to cross the chasm. One is the sheer number of distros, causing confusion among the average user as to which is the best to use. Another is the perceived lack of compatibility with many programs and apps which need a separate version to run on Linux, not always available. And finally, support from a community rather than from a company which might intimidate many users who just want their software to work without spending time learning about it. Macbooks may have a smaller market share than Windows but it's more owing to the price premium than the fact that they are niche. 

It would be interesting to think of more examples that bring out the relevance of this theory more than 20 years after it was originally articulated!