The Throes of Early Adoption

Early adoption is exciting. It’s loads of fun to crack open the box on a newly-produced gadget, or to be the one to “discover” a new digital service. In short, it’s cool to be cool before cool becomes mainstream.

It seems easy enough to always be ever-nerding-out about the newest thing to come along, but that’s only part of what it takes to be an early adopter. Being an early adopter isn’t actually as easy as that. It takes constant critical thinking. As someone who is constantly adopting new tools, methods, and products, you have to be considering what will make something great. You have to see those tools, methods, and products not just as means to a practical end, but also for their ideological potential. What does this mean, practically speaking?

Ideological Potential

Ideological potential (henceforth, IP) is a quantitative term, referring to how innovative an idea is. To help clarify, here are some examples: A shiny new project list management tool for your team probably has relatively low IP, while a taxi-seat trivia game to help bail needy people out of prison is probably pretty high IP. If your idea has the potential to change things in ways they’ve never been changed, the IP is high. By contrast, if your idea’s been done before—particularly if it’s been done well before—your idea has low IP.

As an early-adopter, you’re not just looking for ideas that are new. You’re looking for ideas that are new and which have great ideological potential. Because of this, the process of selecting what you adopt gets a little harder. You have to be constantly sleuthing out new stuff with high IP, which means trying a lot of stuff, including stuff that will utterly fail and get swallowed up by the machine. As you can probably imagine, this means you’ll have accounts with just about every service under the sun (necessity: a password manager).

Time to Jump Ship

Being an early adopter also comes with a little bit of growing pain. If you have accounts with gobs of services, it stands to reason that you won’t actually be actively using them all, all the time. Sometimes you have to jump ship, too.

Sometimes you just have to leave.

One of the easiest ways to figure out when to ditch a product is to assess when it stops being useful to you. If the service’s functionality stops being useful, you should stop using it—but there’s another, possibly more painful reason to ditch a service. The same ideological potential that helped you decide to try the service should be used to help you decide to ditch it. If you pick up new products for their ideological potential, ditch them when the ideals are compromised or when a different product fulfills those ideals better. This even applies when the product is still useful.

Just like how it’s all too easy to let your garage fill up with useless stuff that you used to love, it’s all too easy to hang onto old products or services because you used to see their ideological potential.

A classic example of this: Google Reader (remember Google Reader?). Reader was still totally useful from a functionality standpoint when it was axed, and the online world at large was baffled when Google decided to “sunset” it. There truly was nothing wrong with Reader’s functionality, but the ideals driving Reader were divergent from the modern sharing model. More and more, online users were flocking to social networks to share content.

Google saw the droves of avid blog readers beginning to dwindle in numbers, and the old model of aggregating RSS feeds just starting to look silly. Combine that with Google’s aggressive tactics for driving users to their own social network, Google+, and there you have it: a crowd-dwindling mismatch of ideological potential; a hotly-disputed but ultimately good reason to sunset a useful product.

As an early adopter, you will experience this pain first hand. You will not only work hard to identify new products and services with ideological potential, you will also get to suffer the consequences of losing out when said product or service disappears. At the very least you’ll have to suffer keeping track of all of your thousands of logins.

Early adoption may not be a cakewalk. That’s just the price of cool.

Are you an early-adopter? Did this resonate for you? Let me know your thoughts below, or give a little clap-clap to help spread the word.