Julian Fitzell has a nice post discussing some comments from people about Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. I read Crossing the Chasm some years ago and found it very helpful in describing a seeming paradox: why does a new technology seem to grow quickly at first, then languish? Moore groups types of customers into five categories, but the most important two are the “Early Adopters” and the “Early Majority” (groups 2 and 3). 

Interestingly, the thing appealing to Early Adopters is that it is not in wide use (“I want something that gives me an edge. How can we beat the competition if we use the same technology?”) while the thing appealing to the Majority is that it is in wide use (“Safety in numbers”). Thus, the paradox is that what works for part of the market (say, the first 15%), is being innovative and disruptive. What works for the next part of the market (say, the next 70%), is being proven and stable. 

This is more than just that the message that works for one buyer doesn’t work for another, but that the the message that works for one buyer is poison to another. Telling a buyer in the Majority category that your product is innovative is not simply ineffective, but worse, a turn-off.

What to do? According to Moore, the way to cross the chasm is to carefully define the market: broadly when talking to Innovators so that they see you as unique, and narrowly when talking to the Majority so that they see you as popular. That is, to transition from Early Adopters to the Early Majority, find a beachhead where you can define the market so that you have a significant portion of the business and the Majority in that (narrower) market can feel comfortable with your presence.

The classic example is Macintosh which has a tiny fraction of the market of computers, but a huge portion of the market of computers for desktop publishing applications. In an example closer to home, GemStone has a tiny fraction of the market for databases, but a very significant portion of the market for databases for container shipping logistics applications.

While I applaud Julian’s questions about how we can “Cross the Chasm” and market Seaside to the Majority, I suspect that we are not there yet. I think that Seaside is still in the Innovator stage (say the first 3%) where people will play with things because they are cool. Of course, this depends largely on the definition of the market. If it is “Web Frameworks” then we are still definitely at the Innovators stage. If it is “Web Frameworks for Dynamic Languages” then maybe we could start to see some Early Adopters. If it is “Web Frameworks for Smalltalk” then clearly Seaside is in the Majority position (if you are already using Smalltalk, then you should feel quite confident that selecting Seaside is a “safe” decision). 

My take on things is that we should probably still be focused on the Innovators and Early Adopters. Like James Robertson, I take any chance I can to talk to Ruby groups and show them Seaside. It seems to me that our best audience is people like Andreas Brodbeck who describes himself as “coming from the Rails world” and now does custom application development in Rails and Seaside but has a striking passion for Smalltalk.

Of course, with Julian coming from Ruby and being co-creator of Seaside, I’m sure he understands that perspective!