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Coding Towards Utopia...by Rob Reynolds
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Technology Adoption Lifecycle: In Response To "Why Alt.NET?"

Scott C Reynolds (no known relation) wrote an excellent post a few weeks ago that is definitely worth reading on Why Alt.NET.  He talks about the us vs. them and the reasoning that might be behind it.

I will forgo the use of labels that may be seen as derisive and divisive, and state my observation from my career that developers fall into two very broad camps: those who at least lurk but maybe participate in "community" activities (blogs, conferences, mailing lists, etc) and those who, for whatever reason, do not. I will call the former Group A, and the latter Group B. Group A may or may not be doing things right. They may or may not be up on the latest tools or methods, but they are out there trying to learn. Group B, contrary to popular may still be out there trying to learn. Those guys just do it primarily through books, magazines, Google, the MSDN library, and their immediate coworkers. Just because a developer hasn't plugged into a community does not mean he doesn't care.

I bring this up because the Godfather of Alt.NET (Dave Laribee) commented with:

The Group A & B thing. Again, reach is part of it. Education is part of it. But we *must* keep a kernel of innovation going. That kernel should have an open door policy. Meritocracy and first mover advantage over elitism.
A number of ideas (street kit, reach, topical OSTs, enhancements to social networks) have been pitched, but participation remains appallingly low. There's a few people making things happen and we need to expand that if we want to take it to the next level. Hope won't get us there.
Action. Organization. Participation. Engagement. It's very hard to eek out the time, but if people do believe in making progress and innovation happen, time must be made.

Dave was really starting to get to the idea of what I am presenting here.  It takes time. It takes time?!  Why is that?

At lunch today we were talking about how a couple has been married for over 50 years and a family member recorded their marriage ceremony. Fifty years ago! Camcorders were not in wide stream acceptance by the general public at that time, plus they were really expensive.  That means that the member of the family was an early adopter because although camcorders were brought about over 60 years ago, it took a long time to become mainstream and widely accepted.  When VCRs came out and people could see that, they really started to adopt the use of the camcorder.  The idea of the camcorder had to be around for many years before people accepted/adopted it.

It seems today that the acceptance cycle is becoming faster and faster, but this is not central to my point.  The point is that there is an adoption (or acceptance) cycle and we must acknowledge that it applies to the idea of Alt.NET.

I think that all adoption comes down to how a culture adopts technology.  When I was in college, I took some courses on leadership, and one of the things we talked about was the technology adoption lifecycle, also known as Diffusions of Innovation.  Basically diffusion is how long it takes an idea or product to be accepted by the market.

The picture below is from Wikipedia under the GNU Free Document License.  The picture links to the original.


I am going to use the definition for what each group is from the business idea of diffusion:

  • Innovators – venturesome, educated, multiple info sources;
  • Early adopters – social leaders, popular, educated;
  • Early majority – deliberate, many informal social contacts;
  • Late majority – skeptical, traditional;
  • Laggards – neighbors and friends are main info sources, fear of debt.

What the diagram does not tell you is how long it takes to get to each point of the diffusion cycle.  You want to get to the early and much of the late majority before your idea/technology is widely accepted.  So how much time does that take?  The answer here is that it is hard to tell, but I don't believe that we are yet getting to the point of a 1 year cycle, even a 2 or 5 year cycle.  So this means we have to allow for time, as Dave was talking about.

We are a relatively young culture in .NET so many of the adopters of .NET are just getting used to what Microsoft is ramm-- *ahem* asking us to accept as the best approach.  They are relatively ignoring many of the tools available out there that may be great and many people feel are better.  Many of the innovators and early adopters of Alt.NET came into .NET early on and have tried the Microsoft way for awhile and have since started looking and finding (or creating) new innovations/better ways to do things.  It's kind of the "Been There, Done that, Got the T-shirt, What's Next?" approach.  Many of the innovators and early adopters are the ones who are producing these tools. I feel Alt.NET is really just starting to touch the tip of the Early Majority Iceberg although it could still be in the early adoption phase still.

The one thing we need to remember is patience because this movement will not gain overnight acceptance.  Many will eventually come around.  Given enough time we may even start to get the laggards (stragglers anyone?) because they will make the change out of fear.  This is where Agile is getting to at this point in time. 

Each group comes to these decisions on their own terms.  If we don't understand and respect that each adopts in their own way, we may be quick to turn those would be adopters off.  This is perhaps a little psychology.

There is another story I like to tell that talks about these different groups of people. Sometimes when you are wanting to recruit people, you find that they fall into these groups.  So if you think of basketball, you play the game by giving them information and working the ball for awhile with them.  Then you toss the ball in their court and see what happens. If they toss it back, they are an early adopter/innovator.  They are ready to get started and you can immediately start working with them.  Some people want to examine the ball, understand it, take their time before they toss the ball back.  This takes awhile.  These people are the early majority.  Some people ask a lot of questions and are very slow to make a decision, if in fact they ever do toss the ball back into your court.  They usually come off as very skeptical.  These people are the late majority.  Then there are the laggards.  They only toss the ball back if there is a fear of loss in not accepting.  They take the longest to make a decision, and many times they are not accepting of new ideas.

I would say I fall into the early adopters/early majority area with most everything.  This is how I base where Alt.NET is.

I have two particular posts that I have talked about Alt.NET and what it means to me. To sum up those two articles, Passion is my Alt.NET and I want to see others enjoy what they do.  I believe in some way we are all Alt.NET because we should want to get better at what we do and find better alternatives when tools/ideas are lacking.

I leave you with this thought:

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas.  If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” - Howard Aiken

Print | posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2008 7:35 PM | Filed Under [ Code Personal ProjectManagement ]



# re: Technology Adoption Lifecycle: In Response To "Why Alt.NET?"

To know if you are in the technical enthusiast phase vs. early market phase, ask yourself who you are selling to. If CIOs are involved, or IT departments, then you are in the early market. If someone pays money for it, you are in the early market. The technical enthusiasts download and learn, but do not pay for stuff. The technical enthusiasts influence.

Look at job postings. If the technology shows up in a job description, then someone company or corporate is buying--early market.

.Net looks like early market to me.
4/25/2008 2:09 AM | David Locke

# re: Technology Adoption Lifecycle: In Response To "Why Alt.NET?"

@David: So where would you put Java in the model you presented? Corporations are buying, but it is definitely not early market. I think you are missing an element in your argument, and that is the widestream adoption.

I don't know if we could concretely say that .NET itself is in the early market. It has been around since 2002 and corporations have been paying for it since its inception. The technology enthusiasts got ahold of it before then.

My argument is more towards the idea of Alt.NET and where its ideas are at. It is hard to pay for the ideas of Alt.NET because much of it is in .NET and Open Source. It is more based in the adoption of the ideas presented in Alt.NET.
4/25/2008 6:43 PM | Fervent Coder
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