Remember, you are an edge case

A post from my friend Paul Kedrosky reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about, and that is the need to do two apparently contradictory things simultaneously when looking at online behaviour — whether it’s reader behaviour (for newspapers and magazines) or user behaviour (for Web-based apps). Those two things are to pay close attention to what early adopters or “edge cases” do, and to discount what early adopters and edge cases do.

As Paul notes, the New York Times story about the penetration of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft shows that it has become a mass-market online game, and even it is only at 7 million users, a relative drop in the bucket. He also mentions new ComScore Media Metrix data which show that online classified traffic is up 47% year-over-year, and Craiglist traffic is up 99% year-over-year.

Paul says this is “a worthwhile reminder, if needed, that you can judge nothing from noisy early adopters. You would have dismissed these categories, the latter one in particular, as old and uninteresting, if you watched early adopter behavior.” And he is right (as always), in the sense that for many of us, those two developments are old news — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still important, and in fact growing in importance as they penetrate the mainstream. So it doesn’t pay to become too enamoured with the edge case crowd.

At the same time, however, I think it’s important to pay attention to early adopters for signs of what might be important later — and I would throw Web 2.0-type social apps into that category. In a similar sense, Don Dodge looks at his use of online media as opposed to newspapers and magazines, and whether he is typical or not. I would argue that Don may not be typical now, but he is likely to become increasingly typical in the future, and if the media discount edge cases like him, they will soon find that the boat has sailed without them — and the same goes for companies of all kinds when it comes to online behaviour.

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