Journalists and technology writers are enamored with communications technology and tend to portray successful technologies as representing large scale trends. We are regularly presented with news stories and promotional materials about the rise of new technologies and about how their uses create social trend that are significantly altering society.

The release of the new iPhone was recently featured on network evening news, Blackberry has been heavily discussed because its use by Pres. Obama, and Twitter has been featured in numerous television and newspaper stories. The impression given by coverage is that anyone who doesn’t have an iPhone or Blackberry and anyone who doesn’t Twitter is out of touch with the mainstream and being left out of modern society.

These new means of communications offer interesting possibilities, but their consumption needs to be seen realistically. Blackberry, for example, has 14 million subscribers-- about 5 percent of all mobile phone users in the US. iPhones represents about 1 percent of mobile phone users. The number of Twitter users is currently around 1 million, representing only about 3 tenths of 1 percent of the US population.

Certainly those kinds of numbers can create businesses successes for their firms, but we have to be realistic in interpreting their overall impact on technology markets, social interaction, and diffusion of technologies. Not everyone wants to or will be equally wired, communicating, or sharing mundane details of their lives with their friends and the world. Some persons will find communications enabling technologies more rewarding in business and personal terms than other persons.

It is easy to forget the size of market when discussing the impact of diffusion of technologies. Without doing so, however, one gets a warped sense of their role in contemporary life.


Steve Safran said...

Far be it for me to argue with a man of your education and experience! However, let me offer an alternative view: it's not the size of the audience, but rather the quality. The media is used to dealing in Large Numbers, but that's not how we consume information anymore.

The media needs to spread itself out the way the audience does. Five percent of an audience may not seem like much - but if you get five percent of the public to watch a cable TV show, it's a big hit. Also, it's not about that five percent - it's about five percent here, three percent there, etc.

Which isn't to say everyone should use Twitter. I've seen a lot of media companies using it badly. It's like a blog - you have to commit and understand it as its own thing.

Excellent blog. Thanks for sharing your insight. BTW: I found your article via Mathew Ingram's sharing of it on Facebook. Another excellent example of why social media is so important.

Robert G. Picard said...

I have no argument with the idea that a firm doesn't need a huge share to be successful or to provide something useful for its users.

My argument is with those who overstate the use and impact of technologies that serve a small portion of the population or market.

Blogging, Twittering, Facebook and other forms of social networking are linking people in interesting ways and shifting the control of the communication space. The multifunctions of iPhone and Blackberry provide important features for many people. However, they are not yet making a wholesale displacement of other forms of communication nor representing the same kind of large scale change as the appearance of the Internet or mobile phones.

Antonio A. Prado said...

A lot of this is purely the result of hype that is caused by the subjective opinions of journalists, and partly the result of the Lovemark phenomenon. Twitter is probably on its way, if not already, turning into a Lovemark. Let's face it. It's pretty cool technology, but where is the business model?

At my own paper, I have to talk down our graphic designers, presentation editors and copy desk off the ledge whenever Macworld news is on the wire or there is a new iPod or iPhone release. And they never want to play up any faults in Apple or its products. They've drank the Apple Kool-Aid and are immersed in the resonance of that brand.

Curiously, Windows Mobile, a technically superior operating system that in 2008 sold 18 million licenses alone has 14 percent worldwide market share, and that's after falling from its 23 percent perch a few years before. There is far more software available for WM, much of it is free or inexpensive and serves much more uses (for instance, you still can't turn your iPhone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, for instance, at least not without jailbreaking your device) and the manufacturer of the phones and OS don't have a stranglehold of what you can and can't do. But they still sell more phones, more licenses and still manage to make money.

But they don't get the hype because Windows Mobile isn't "cool," even though, in my own newsroom, they concede my T-Mobile Shadow does better things than their iPhones. It's not logical, but they help decide what gets the big graphics in the paper and our Web site.

And oh yeah, they LOVE Twitter too.

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