GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

December 27, 2005

In his post “First 300,000 is Easy,” Om Malik questions “if the whole Web 2.0 thing is still in a very-early adopter stage… I get a feeling that it will be a long time before the concepts filter into mainstream usage.”

I share his concern that many of the emerging web services are actually only being used by a small subset of the total overall internet population – the extreme techie set. Of course, by definition, early adopters come first. But I wonder if many of the recently launched services emerging are consciously (or more likely, subconsciously) “digerati-facing” services, as opposed to true “consumer-facing” services. While a nice mention in a high-profile tech blog will jump-start a start-up site, that exposure doesn’t necessarily translate into widespread usage.

To me, this situation seems a symptom of both product design and marketing positioning. Design & market a service for the digerati; it will attract the digerati. Design & market a service for the masses; it will attract the masses.

Is attracting the first 300K users easy? Hardly. But perhaps in some cases growing from 30K to 300K users is less difficult than growing from 300K to 3MM.

It will be very interesting to see which of the online services who’ve gained initial techie-focused traction will be able to convert that momentum to a wider audience. Sure, not all recent startups are just for the techie crowd (Clipmarks and Meebo come to mind as counter examples, along with many others). I’d speculate that in 2006, a couple of the “breakout” services will leapfrog the digerati set altogether, gaining early acceptance of general consumers via techniques like search engine optimization and peer-to-peer marketing. There are many paths to mass adoption, and I think that it can be accomplished either with or without extreme techie acceptance first, depending on the strategy deployed.

  • Pete Cashmore


    I totally agree, but the way I see it is that promoting your service to the digerati is easy – just use the blogosphere. Getting your product in front of mainstream users is much harder, so the easiest route seems to be to get the savviest, smartest users on board first with the expectation that they’re evangelize a great service.

  • Abby

    I tried to post on this before, but my internet connection went out.

    I haven’t tried clipmark. It seems very similar to furl–only prettier. Meebo could be useful. I mostly just use AIM for chatting–occasionally hotmail’s version. If I IM at work, I get in trouble. So e-mail is a more important tool for me. (I’m sure that this marks me as an old fogey at the age of 30.)

    I think that tagging is a brilliant concept, but I have not found to be at all intuitive and have avoided it for that reason. Perhaps it will improve now that it is owned by Yahoo.

  • Erik Schwartz

    The other challenge is the support issue.

    It’s one thing to build and support a feature for a technically savvy audience of a few hundred thousand, it’s an entirely different issue to build an infrastructure that can support a mainstream, naive user base an order of magnitude larger than that.

    I see many of the “build it to flip” single feature companies (who didn’t bother with a revenue stream) getting in deep weeds over this issue. A revenue stream is very important, it allows the entrepeneur to decide when is the best time to liquidate to maximize value, rather than needing to sell out to leverage the support infrastructure of a larger entity.

    In 1997 I was leading the entertainment group at Yahoo! when we made a small acquisition and built the casual gaming site. By far the biggest challenges we had in scaling into Yahoo! Games were in supporting the massively larger audience of far less passionate users.

  • Terry Leach

    I have given alot of thought to the “Digerati-Facing Services” and “Consumer-Facing Services” in my quest to bring my ideas to life. I believe there are a couple of barriers that limit the jump from “Digerati-Facing” to “Consumer-Facing” Services.1. Lack of highly available always on Broadband Internet access in the U.S.2. Entrepreneur lacking “Systematic thinking” about the product or services. If entrepreneur were to think about the bell curve of technology adoption and how their product or service fits into a system. I believe they would get beyond the Digerati-facing service.

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