An early adopter or lighthouse customer is an early customer of a given company, product, or technology. – Wikipedia
If you are a regular user of any social media site chances are that you might have come across this term fairly often. Think Early Adopters think Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel and the likes. Interestingly a lot hasn’t been said about the fact that for each Early Adopter there are hundreds and thousands of “early adopters” who are more or less that important for a new service. An early adopter could be a defined as scaled down version of an Early Adopter in most metrics. Having hundreds of subscribers/followers instead of thousands,their blog readership would be in hundreds instead of thousands etc. While the frequency at which they use the new services would roughly be same as Early Adopters but when it comes to trying new services and giving regular feedback/suggestions they are often ahead(in numbers and frequency respectively) of Early Adopters.
Essentially these are the people who are the bridge between Early Adopters and the mainstream users and are just as interested in exploring new services as it can be and are just as passionate about what they do but with a smaller sphere of influence.
In the past year or so that I’ve been using social media services I’ve seen quite a few instances in which a new service picked momentum because some Early Adopter started using it regularly and started spreading the word. Does it mean that “Its mandatory for a new service to get blessings of an Early Adopter or two in order to succeed ?” . Sure it helps if someone whose articulate, has insight and has a big follower base starts to use a new service but I am not sure if this was the case always and with every successful service. By successful here I just mean in terms of active users & web traffic.
I am not too sure if popular sites like Orkut, Scribd etc caught eyeballs because of some Early Adopters.
If I think about it, I got to know about these sites and many more from people who would fall in the category of “early adopters” and not “Early Adopters”. While the early adopters might not have the same levels of expertise or insights but they make up with extra enthusiasm and optimism.
As aptly mentioned by Steven early adopters don’t equal success i.e If you have Early Adopters as raving fans it won’t necessarily mean that the mainstream audience will love your product just as much or the revenue would not be a problem.
In my opinion while new services should keep an eye on the Early Adopters and try to convert them to regular users of their service they shouldn’t be obsessed with just them and NOT overlook the small fish in the sea aka the early adopters because the early adopters because are easier to find(and please). Also, since they are more close to the mainstream audience in terms of their usage & behavioral patterns their feedback would probably be more relevant/useful if you are targeting the mainstream audience. What also tends to happen at times with Early Adopters is the sense of entitlment (which at times comes in initial days itself) which could leave the team behind the service in a perplexed/worrisome state and they’ll end up expending their energies in the wrong direction.
I’d summarize it all by saying while Early Adopters are great to have one should get obsessed by them and shouldn’t ignore the early adopters in the process.