Early Adopters — What’s Hot Tomorrow? A Guest Post

Bill Tancer, the general manager of research at Hitwise and author of Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters, blogged here earlier this week about Internet trends and data. This is the last of three posts on the subject.

Internet behavioral data provides unprecedented insights as to how current events such as rising gas prices affect our online comparison-shopping activities. The prospect of predicting future behaviors is even more exciting. In my upcoming book, Click, I discuss one of the most promising areas of predictability — understanding product adoption and more specifically the online behavior of the early adopter.

In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, the late Everett Rogers provided us with a graphical representation (first a distribution curve, then an S curve) of how technological innovations spread through our society. The first segments to experiment with and then disseminate the latest in technology were named “innovators” and “early adopters.”

By segmenting our U.S. Internet sample into 50 Mosaic types and 66 Claritas Prizm segments (such as the Young Digerati, Money and Brains, and the Bohemian Mix), and examining the segmentation of key sites before they became extremely popular, we’ve identified the “early adopters” of today’s hit sites like YouTube and Facebook.

By searching through our list of over one million websites for what those segments are doing today, we can get a sense for what might be the next Internet blockbuster.

The Internet early adopter is actively using Google Docs and Spreadsheets (Bohemian Mix is over three times more likely to visit Google Docs versus the average Internet user), possibly indicating the attractiveness of server based productivity applications.

The early adopter is also showing signs of trying out alternate social networks like Google’s Orkut and relative newcomer PerfSpot.com.

But here’s a shocker: one of the top sites visited by early adopter segments is none other than the granddaddy of social nets, Friendster.


Founded in 2002, the once popular Friendster has all but faded into obscurity, currently ranking in position #368 amongst all Internet sites visited by U.S. Internet users.

Interestingly, Friendster made news this week with a fresh $20M investment from IDG Ventures and a new CEO, Richard Kimber, the former managing director of Google’s South Asia operations. The early adopter analysis screen that I described above was conducted using data for the four weeks ending July 26th 2008. Perhaps online early adopter segments are privy to the revival of Friendster.

Perhaps readers of this blog have a clue. Another site that ranked in the top 20 sites visited by online early adopters was Freakonomics.

science minded back from computer virus forced vocation

are we not speaking once more of the wisdom of the crowd phenomenon. Echan- suggest you read Brooks article again to get the whole of it.

Cap'n Chucky

Golly, I'd forgotten all about Google Docs. Looks interesting. Zoho.com lets me do pretty much the same thing, and has some additional useful apps (Zoho Notebook lets me put anything on the Web so I can grab it later). I don't know how Zoho compares with Google Docs, but I've found it really useful.


I'm generally one to keep up on early trends, and I move ahead w/ anything new that seems useful. I make a majority of my purchases online. I have, however, aggressively resisted joining a social networking site at all. I joined Friendster for one friend, but never visited. How does someone like me fit into your taxonomy of users? Where's a description of the taxonomic categories?

let them eat gollum balls (soon to shed consciousness)

speaking (writing) of old social "sites" on the net, usenet's still around...

online doc-editing will always be for casual, desperate, and naive users.

hmm. have any early-adopters given up gen counting? genx=80's, geny=90's, genz=00's, gena2=10's, etc

kind of a base26 system. :-)

let them eat gollum balls

and.. aren't "early adopters" just early sheeple? they're rarely innovators (open source contributors (or equiv) are sometimes an exception). i'd be more interested in what the true proto peeps are up to.


Pom (#9): Oh yes, you're right. I'll blame that one on the youthful haste of Gen Y...

Bill Tancer

Sheila, That's a great point. I did consider this in the analysis and in fact, if I take the data back three years (the oldest historical data that I have available) those segments were present then. However over the last few years they percent share of Friendster visits steadily declined. Taking your point on step further, its possible that these segments are revisting their old Freindster accounts.


Juliet (#5), wouldn't that be Generation Y?


As David Brooks points out today, early adapters are oftentimes early discarders. Once the new new thing has taken hold (i.e. Facebook), then the logical step is to delete one's Friendster and MySpace accounts to get rid of that digital clutter.

Once you rid yourself of a profile on an online site, it ceases to exist from your consciousness, as it has no relevance.


About Friendster - maybe those early adopters were the first onto the online social networking scene, when Friendster was the only game in town. They're using it now because they've always been using it - that's where they started and that's where they've built up their networks. It's also possible that they're back now because of a revival, but I think there's a decent chance they just never left. Can you tell by the data?


Is it true that once an early adopter, always an early adopter? Maybe this is showing that Friendster readers AREN'T trendy anymore.


Keep in mind Friendster has stayed in the top websites worldwide, even if it has fallen from favor in the United States. Early adopters in a market can often pick up trends that are well established in other markets (countries, in this instance).


Gen-Xers have an insatiable appetite for social networking. Perhaps it is unnecessary to see the distinction between the new (Orkut, PerfSpot) and the old (Friendster) - the key point is that it is MORE. If one is going to make the foray out to less main-stream social networks, wouldn't it make sense to visit sites where one already has some connections?

Anyway, vintage is "in" these days. Have you noticed how more and more young people are taking up accordion??


I would consider myself to be an early adopter, but the only reason I use google docs is cause I click the attachments in my gmail. I'm not actually creating documents in it. I still use Office.


Another thing to keep in mind is that the key value of these social networks is the number of connections that they offer. Bill, did you compare visits to Friendster versus visits to Facebook from this same group of early adopters?

I think this group's behavior will not be a leading indicator (e.g., predictive) because of the point I mention above. My gut says that Facebook popularity among this group has actually increased relative to Friendster popularity among this group over the past 1-2 years.

What do the data say?


Google Docs is a great replacement for Office for 90% of users. Plus it's a great place to keep basic household information (for example, the household budget in a Google Spreadsheet) so that you can access it from anywhere on any computer without having to have Office (and its expensive price tag) installed on every computer in the house.

@Capn'n Chucky - Google also has a notebook feature called, wait for it, Google Notebook. Check it out.

I know I sound like a shill for Google, but the fact is that they continue to provide good stuff.