Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Social Media Across The Chasm

Diffusion of Innovation.    Image by Bryan Mathers 

This week Stephen Fry left Twitter - he's done it before, he said goodbye in 2009, 2010 and exactly a year ago left Twitter for a three month break but this time it just may be for good. Stephen Fry joined Twitter in 2008 - he tweeted a lot (although nowhere near as much as Robert Scoble at the time) and attracted large numbers of followers 500,000 in May 2009, 1million in November 2009, 4 million in March 2012 and over 12 million when he quit this week. I knew him as a "literature buff" and was I was surprised when he joined Twitter in the early days - especially as he used to tweet a lot about technology stuff - I had no idea he was into tech like this .... this type of direct and dis-intermediated communication is one of the wonderful things about Twitter.

I joined Twitter in 2007 -  there was a wind of change blowing through IT  - a whole load of new things seemed to emerge at the same time - it was an exciting time for those the innovators and early adopters who liked to experiment on the leading edge of things.

2007 was also the time when I first came across Everett Rogers' theory on the Diffusion Of Innovations and Geoffrey Moore's idea about Crossing the ChasmEverett Rogers describes a pretty common sense model of how new things come into use - starting with a few risk taking visionaries, experimenters and enthusiastic "innovators"  followed by a slightly larger group of "early adopters" - opinion leaders seeking and advantage and to get ahead of the herd by taking an educated chance with a promising new thing. After a period of time the more pragmatic "early majority" start to adopt new things generally to solve practical and usually specific problems. After the majority of society has adopted a new thing and the "new thing" becomes normal the more conservative "late majority" follow everyone else for fear of being left behind. Finally, the most traditional in society may or may not adopt a new thing - often being forced to change because there is no choice. Geoffrey Moore described "The Chasm" as the gap between the smaller number of risk taking experimenters on one side of humanity and the the more conservative, pragmatic, critical, sceptical and traditional majority on the other side. 

Experiences withTwitter seem to fit into the Rogers Moore model - I've put the diffusion of Twitter on a timeline below.

Twitter started in 2006 - those who joined in that year would definitely be the Rogers "innovators' group. I joined in 2007 which I think puts me in the "early adopters group" with Stephen Fry in the Chasm between the visionary early adopters and the pragmatic early majority.

Stephen Fry describes the early days of Twitter before the Chasm

"Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest. It was glorious ‘to turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping.’ We frolicked and water-bombed and sometimes, in the moonlight, skinny-dipped. We chattered and laughed and put the world to rights and shared thoughts sacred, silly and profane."

Twitter grew and crossed the chasm to the more conservative, pragmatic, critical, sceptical and traditional majority and this is when Stephen Fry's problems began when in 2009 threatened to quit because there is 'too much aggression and unkindness'.

Today Twitter has crossed the chasm and diffused through the whole of society - everyone is there now - people, trolls, saints, sinners and everyone in between. Stephen Fry describes Twitter today as " too many people have peed in the pool for you to want to swim there any more. The fun is over.

Many people have noticed the same thing - that with the mainstreaming of social media it lost its early charms - the early adopters have to mix it up with the "laggards" - its no longer an exclusive club anymore. I understand Stephen Fry's frustration but I relish the diversity of humanity and celebrate the fact that all human life is here now on social media.


  1. A good analysis Martin and it's perhaps inevitable that Twitter has become a victim of its own success in its land grab for members and now its scramble to monetise.

    It's possible that those "pre-chasm" are now ready for an alternative to the current players who dominate the social media landscape which would include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Inevitably they will be disrupted and hopefully by something that doesn't turn the output of millions of connected human beings into something that resembles a Daily Mail editorial meeting and deals with the signal to noise ratio so that there is more signal and less noise.

    My feeling on this is that I want to hear from people who I might not agree with rather than create an echo chamber but at the same time not get lured into pointless dick swinging with the attack dogs.

    I have substantially reduced my use of social media. Removing the apps from my phone was a revelation. The result is that I have more time to focus on what matters to me.

    I think the next generation social media platforms will be AI-based and these may have the benefit of helping us filter out the noise without losing the dissenting voices.

    Twitter just feels old now. Facebook is just creepy. LinkedIn is just pointless.

    Of course, these platforms are all aimed at old farts and the under-30s have abandoned them a while ago for platforms that are not so public. Snapchat seems to be hoovering up the youth market, perhaps there's something to be learned there.

    1. Graham,

      AI based ... I was thinking the same thing .. a post in the pipeline called something like "Next Big Thing: The PDA" :) ... with the "A" as Agent or other names like PDI ... there is a lot of work going into AI of course but also mobile AI - the next 2 years are going to be "very interesting" and the "next big" thing will most likely emerge exponentially as if out of nowhere almost.

      The other possibility is something I can;t see happening - some sort of open protocol for loosely coupled social systems .. an SMTP style thing for diverse even DIY apps that can communicate ... like we do with email - email is much criticised but I can still rock up a DIY email thing and interact with the world ... I can still send emails from a telnet command line!

      Like you and many others I have reduced my use of social media a lot compared to the noughties and again over the last two years - hoping to write a post about being "off grid" or something .. about balance - rather like you posted recently on Medium.

      LOL ... even now education is still thinking about social media ... I guess that once education "get it" then it will be truly over :)