I met someone yesterday who joined Twitter in November, 2007 – a time when there were less than 500,000 users – and probably a year before Twitter really burst onto the scene.
At the time, Twitter was an intriguing service but there was little indication it was poised for explosive growth. Back then, Twitter even had quasi-healthy competition from players such as Pownce and Jaiku.
The decision for someone to join Twitter in late-2007 was as much an experiment as it was climbing on a bandwagon that was starting to gain speed. Having signed up myself in December, 2007 after dismissing Twitter as nothing more than an inane outlet for personal babbling, I never expected Twitter to be anything more than just interesting.
For whatever reason, Twitter caught on, moving beyond the nerds, geeks, A-listers and social mavens. But in many ways, Twitter’s success was due to the fact many people decided to enthusiastically throw themselves into it when it was far from apparent it was going to become anything significant.
For new services trying to gain a foothold (e.g. Yobongo, Quora, etc.), a key part of the challenge is not only creating a service that is compelling but coming up with something that captures the imagination of the right people. This has to happen before another shiny, new toy comes along – meaning there is a small window of opportunity to make an impression.
The mystery is how to attract the key early adopter. How do you convince them it’s worth the investment to sign up for yet another social media service that looks interesting but may not having staying power?
Part of it may have to do with being able to win the affections of a few influential people – e.g. Mike Arrington or Robert Scoble – who will enthusiastically wave the flag on your behalf.
It also helps if you can excite enough “regular folk” that they become evangelists and advocates on your behalf, something far more challenging than whispering in Robert Scoble’s ear about a pretty new thing.
The difference between success (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and failure (Friendfeed, Friendster, Pownce) is difficult to define or quantify. Some of it’s luck, some of it’s timing and some of it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right service.