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This is an over-simplified explanation of how different people onboard to things at different times - like using Ning as a platform for building a social network.

Some of us have been with Ning since it first came out about a decade ago, and this is why you might call us "early adopters". Some of you might be just now embarking on your first journey in building your own social network, so you can kind of get the gist that you are somewhere else later along the adoption curve.

Technically speaking, "Diffusion of Innovations" is academic theory that can help us more constructively discuss complex topics like innovation, technology, and corresponding social behaviors. I think it is certainly worthwhile for those of us Ning Creators with perspectives that have advanced over time, and may be of use to new platform users along the same kind of lines.

Needless to say, books have been written about the concept, real research has been done, and there is a wealth of interpretation and application of the concepts out there. All I am doing here today is just pulling some material in to help introduce and illustrate some points, understanding the materials I bring in are not necessarily perfectly adjusted to this presentation - I think enough to get the ideas across.

One of the first things I imagine everyone goes through when they encounter this stuff is a consideration of where they stand. You might just check what comes to mind when you think about using a platform like Ning, where you are at with smart phones, or maybe where you could be with newly emerging business processes or technologies like User-Experience Design or Virtual Reality. Upon consideration of these types of things, not only do you arrive at a realization of where you are that you might not have considered before, but especially the "why" underlying that fact.

O.K. well, the same principles might be quite useful when you start thinking about building a community. Any social network is likely to go through a similar range of adoption by its user base - early through late adoption, right. If you get a good seed group of advocates around your theme, site, and social experience - well then eventually you can reach a critical mass where it just takes off virally. You might also find yourself struggling to get over what is commonly referred to as "The Chasm" - but the fact of the matter is growing a social network can be far easier said than done.

Now, there's a lot of psychology involved and I think that's great for us as social network builders to get into. This stuff is all based on research that originated in the 60's and it might sound like it is outdated when I say that, but just think about it and decide for yourself how much it is relevant today.

Back in the 60's as we were coming out of the industrial revolution into what might be described as a technology revolution - dealing with change at ever increasing rates of complexity, volatility, and competition - a lot of major corporate entities started investing into formal research on things like occupational psychology, strategic decision-making, experimental organizational models, etc. The research has always been out there and continues to be the case today, but there have been times when real money got infused into these lines of inquiry with some substantial insights as a result.

I want to just highlight here real quick this notion of expectation - how technology like Ning, for instance, might get introduced, that there could be this early excitement as people first started using it, and then a predictable pattern of disillusionment, eventually leveling out somewhere in between with a sort of compromising attitude of "this is what I got, might as well make the best use of it".

Test that logic real quick - Find you went through this with Ning as an end-user of the years? Find you've just gone through this with Ning as a new user this year? What about your social network/ community, recognize a pattern there where people come on excited and then quickly fade when they realize it's not all that? Maybe you need to adjust your approach with attention to an onboarding process for different types of adopters who, based on their personalities or situational needs, might be better served with a more tailored experience instead of suggesting what you have to offer is one size fits all.

Take Ning, again, and think about it. You certainly can see a benefit of the recent repackaging of the main website and value proposition for new users coming on. Obviously that's going to have much to do with new user sales. You also have more advanced users who might find little value in being introduced to basic things and might be looking for advanced features in the product or more responsive relational partnering from the platform vendor. Food for thought.

For those of you who have been around a while, you might know me for pretty much challenging every step Ning makes. It should be a healthy conversation between business and consumer - really a new two-way model made possible by the very kind of social technologies and behaviors we are trying to engineer. If the premise is something like this "Diffusion of Innovations" law, as it were, being true to the scientific method involves ongoing proof/ disproof, and is the best thing for the research either way it ends up panning out.

When you start talking about modeling disruption at scale, I think that gets us to where a lot of behind the scenes incentive structures are coming into play. If I were to tell you this week I spoke with two of the previous owners of Ning (not Mode Media), but let's say top 20 tech leaders/ investors in the Peninsula, they might be looking at things more like the above graph - you go with minimum viable in terms of social platform, it either takes off or not from there, you get in with investors looking for relative low risk/ high yield / fast turnaround on returns, and then you are out with an exit to quit while you are ahead. If you are into that kind of thing, it's easy to see the behavior of the tech market along these lines.

I did also talk to someone from previous management in Mode Media earlier this year I think it was, and they are right there talking about this kind of research. It's kind of a big deal, but the same challenges we've gone through with Ning parallel new technology adoption issues like smart watches. Well, if you had investors jumping on the bandwagon early for Apple's watch, for instance, they were probably just as quick to jump off when they realized whatever it is just is not where the action is going to be. You could say it looked like Mode itself went all in for addictive programming like you see Amazon, Netflix, and many others jumping into today... but when it did not pan out nearly immediately they literally jumped ship.

So what does this all mean to you? I certainly offer this to other end-user customers, and welcome discussing how this relates to building social networks. The phenomena are transitory - diffusion as the spreading of let's say your project out across a network of people, through their networks, ideally resulting in an infusion of memberships and perhaps sales. This was also referred to as "viral looping" with regard to the social phenomena of social network growth - and "double-viral looping" in terms of incorporating a Ning footer to networks in order to leverage the very behavior of people coming into our sites as a prospective customer market for Ning's own products/ services. What it means to you has something to do with asking the company something about use of branding/ footers, for instance, and them saying they'll let you know what they decide... the kind of response that might be appropriate for novice users just onboarding... but more of an insult to the intelligence and long-standing loyalty of customers who adopted much earlier, and who's needs might be more sophisticated.

As new management begins to ramp the platform back up again, it cannot be too surprising to see the same basic ideas and strategies being rolled out - the same kind of first order logic we've seen the company go through before as it tried and failed across a number of ownership groups. Personally. I'm more interested in getting this info up to the new ownership group, so at the very least they can see the pattern in play, and ideally so they can see just how much more is going to be needed from them to truly take the platform to the next level.

anthonyreardon@nascentdynamics.com

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