Foursquare and Gowalla were launched at the 2009 SXSW, and one year later, many proclaimed the 2010 SXSW to be the year of "location, location, location". With almost 350,000 Foursquare check-ins during one day of the event, and with numerous location-based services launching before, during, and after SXSW, the buzz among early adopters surrounding location-based social networking seems to show no signs of abating.The popular location-based services
In a provocative (and NSFW) blog post this weekend, entrepreneur and developer Dave McClure takes both location-based social networks and their early adopters to task, arguing that "the current method of check-ins is a classic case of early-adopter lust for shiny objects, & has not a damn thing to do with long-term sustainable mainstream consumer behavior." Dismissing the lure of the game-mechanics that many of these platforms utilize - the idea of collecting badges, points, and/or mayorships - McClure contends that until LBS start offering some sort of simple monetary incentive, mainstream users will not be compelled to check-in. Whether or not you agree with McClure's pronouncements and predictions about location-based social networks, his comments about "early-adopter lust for shiny objects" are worth considering.
Although conventional wisdom posits that early adopters provide a solid target market for startups, there are some drawbacks in responding focusing solely on those who "lust for shiny objects."
Early adopters' enthusiasm may not always be a good indication of future growth and sustainability. Although early adopters are often willing to provide feedback on a product's development, that feedback might not be the information necessary to woo a larger market. Early adopters' feedback on existing features and push for new features might not necessarily be the feedback necessary for features that mainstream users would want or need. The push for special stamps and badges from Gowalla and Foursquare might excite early adopters, for example, but mainstream users may not find this a compelling reason to adopt a service. The lure of other social networks, such as Facebook, is in part that "everyone is there." The question remains how to make the move from just the early adopters to "everyone" being there.
Nevertheless, early adopters can be terrific champions of a product, actively promoting it to their friends. Early adopters are a small, but vocal group. Ignore them at your peril. And focus exclusively on them at your peril.