The rapidity of diffusion vs. the rabidity of marketing.


Diffusion of innovations research tracks how new ideas and products — innovations – spread across large populations. Everett Rogers’ 1962 treatise has spurred a vast number of similar studies. Here’s a quick visual summary of some of the conclusions of diffusion theory and research:

There are two related curves in the image above. One is an S-shaped growth curve, showing the total number of adopters of a popular innovation over time. The other is a familiar bell-shaped curve, showing how population members are distributed by their rate of innovation. “Innovators” adopt innovations earliest; “laggards” adopt latest.

Diffusion of innovations research finds widespread applications among those who wish to manage and control diffusion. However, diffusion now takes place in a very different environment than in Rogers’ heyday. We now have many more innovations to choose to adopt, and the pace at which those innovations diffuse is much more rapid.

The rapidity of an innovation’s diffusion conventionally indicates something about its ultimate penetration. In new media environments, however, initial diffusion may occur equally rapidly for virtual products and services with very different levels of subsequent use. For instance, Google and Facebook exhibited very rapid diffusion — resulting in vast numbers of users. But Twitter and World of Warcraft have also exhibited a rapid diffusion rate and have since plateaued — with about 150 million and 13 million adopters, respectively. And while a viral video might race through the internet like a grass fire in high wind, there is little significance or sustenance to its eventual passing.

Thus, initially rapid diffusion may mean less in new media contexts than in old. Currently, Apple’s iPad seems to be diffusing very rapidly, but the iPad – and tablet devices in general — may fall well short of the penetration of Facebook, or Google, or television sets.

Nevertheless, the rapid and continuous diffusion of virtual products and services tends to promote the innovation process. This is certainly a boon to new technology companies, but may not be as favorable for the status quo. For this reason, entrenched technology companies are increasingly forced to devote as much thought and effort into sustaining as achieving market success.

Some current strategies exemplifying this devotion: 1) associating products and services with tribal identifiers, either psychological or sociological, that inspire instinctive (and hopefully brand-related) loyalties, e. g., the rabid fanboy culture of Apple; 2) bundling products and services in hopes of masking the disadvantages of an outdated product or service with the advantages of some other, e. g., cable companies requiring the purchase of lower-level programming tiers in order to access higher-level tiers; and 3) the brute force approach of requiring long-term commitments to short-term products, e. g., the ludicrously long 2-year contracts proffered by leading cell phone service providers.

Can marketing strategies like these inhibit innovation and slow diffusion?

Reflections from DiGRA…

…that are class-discussion related.

Hmm, let’s see.


We will soon be discussing “scholarly” publications and comparing those to non-scholarly (e. g., more popular and widely read) publications.  One of the (supposedly) primary advantages of scholary publications has been that these are vetted through a formal “peer review” process intended to insure and validate their quality and significance.

We will discuss more details about this peer review process in class.  However, let me make a couple of comments regarding current challenges to this process originating in new media forms.

These two challenges revolve around, first, the definition of “peer” in “peer review,” and, second, what we might call the tenacity or momentum of non-peer-reviewed online publications.

1.  What’s an “expert”?

Peer review is commonly based on a limited number of (three, for instance) expert opinions actively solicited for that purpose.

Wikipedia article reviews, on the other hand, are based on a much larger number of voluntary participants/editors who may or may not be experts on the topic(s) of the articles they review and edit.

While Wikipedia has recently moved to more tightly limit and “expertize” those who edit articles, the extreme version of a Wikipedia-like editing process remains in contrast to the principles of peer review.  Let’s avoid nuances for the moment and contrast these two processes simply as the “expert” vs. the “hive-mind.”

The traditional belief is, of course, that the expert is the better source of review — not the massive, anonymous hive-mind of the (occasionally unwashed) crowd.  But was that preference simply based on the relative inability to access the collective hive-mind through old media forms?  With newer, more connected, more immediate, and more responsive media, the hive-mind of the crowd becomes increasingly accessible — and proves surprisingly accurate when compared to the accuracy of the experts.  See, for instance, here.

2.  The persuasiveness of the popular.

The tenets and beliefs of popular culture are frequently at odds with more objective realities.  Our notion of the comparative characteristics and values of human “races,” for instance, has been more often colored (figuratively and literally) by superficial skin tones than by any fundamental differences among human genotypes.  For this (and other) reasons, “scholarly” discussion has commonly been kept separate — and, as occasion warrants, protected — from discussion in non-scholarly contexts.

In new media contexts, however, the barriers separating scholarly (isolated and “elite”) belief/knowledge and non-scholarly (widespread and “popular”) belief/knowledge have become less distinct and more permeable.

An extended example (probably overly protracted, but it is on my mind based on the recent DiGRA conference):

Take a brief look at this description of game player types.  That description traces a discussion of game player types that begins with a 1980 publication by Glen Bacow.

In 1990, I did a statistical analysis (Q-study) of game player motivations — see my research archives page — that summarized game player motivations as 1) playing to seek a challenge, 2) playing to socialize, and 3) playing to escape.  While I did not reference Bacow in that article, I did reference the most pertinent scholarly studies of the time, including Thomas Malone’s important work on player motivation and “fun” — from 1981.

Some time later — 1996 — there was the publication of the now well known (as a result of widespread promulgation through web-based sources — e. g., see here) “Bartle player types.”

Subsequently, it seems — due to the popularity of the “Bartle types” configuration (formally similar to “What Sort of… Are You?” online quizzes) — that more sophisticated statistical analyses of game player motivations have found reference to these “Bartle types” obligatory…

…without any corresponding obligation to acknowledge or reference earlier work on the topic.  And this pattern of referential obligation continues — as the recent DiGRA conference demonstrated — despite, curiously, much of the newer research invalidating much of Bartle’s derivations.

Circumstances like this one, particularly involving scholarly research investigating new media topics — such as computer games — demonstrates the extent to which scholarly research must now interact with and, in that interaction, potentially become guided and structured by that which is popular and widespread, regardless of the means by which that widespread popularity has been obtained.

The ability of the web to promulgate persuasive ideas of the popular, regardless of their origin or validity, can be both a boon — if the ideas are original and valid — or a disaster — if those ideas are based on rumor, innuendo, and/or the banal.  This has always been a problem for journalists to deal with and overcome; it is increasingly a problem for scholars and scholarly publications to deal with and (hopefully) overcome as well.