Early Adopters of Technological Innovations

When a technological innovation is introduced, not everyone adopts it at the same moment.  Rather, there will be innovators and there will also be laggards.  Based upon the examination of a large number of studies in innovation diffusion, Rogers proposed a method of adopter categorization.  First, it was observed that the time to adoption follows the bell-shaped Gaussian curve when the frequency histogram is plotted against time.  In turn, this meant that the cumulative number of adopters follows an S-shaped curve (see example).  Rogers suggested that the normal curve be discretized as follows:

For a technological innovation to take off, the first two groups are obviously the most important ones.  Rogers (1983) characterized these two groups as follows:

Innovators: Venturesome

Observers have noted that venturesomeness is almost an obsession with innovators.  They are very eager to try new ideas.  This interest leads them out of a local circle of peer networks and into more cosmopolite social relationships.  Communication patterns and friendships among a clique of innovators are common, even though the geographical distance between the innovators may be considerable.  Being an innovator has several prerequisites.  These include control of substantial financial resources to absorb the possible loss owing to an unprofitable innovation and the ability to understand and apply complex technical knowledge.  The innovator must be able to cope with the high degree of uncertainty about an innovation at the time that the innovator adopts.

The salient value of the innovator is venturesomeness.  He or she desires the hazardous, the rash, the daring, and the risky.  The innovator must also be willing to accept an occasional setback when one of the new ideas he or she adopts proves unsuccessful, as inevitably happens.  While an innovator may not be respected by the other members of a social system, the innovator plays an important role in the diffusion process: that of launching the new idea in the social system by importing the innovation from outside of the system's boundaries.  Thus, the innovator plays a gatekeeping role in the flow of new ideas into a social system.

Early Adopters: Respectable

Early adopters are a more integrated part of the local social system than are innovators.  Whereas innovators are cosmopolites, early adopters are localities.  This adopter category, more than any other, has the greatest degree of opinion leadership in most social systems.  Potential adopters look to early adopters for advice and information about the innovation.  The early adopter is considered by many as the "individual to check with" before using a new idea.  This adopter category is generally sought by change agents to be a local missionary for speeding the diffusion process.  Because early adopters are not too far ahead of the average individual in innovativeness, they serve as a role model for many other members of a social system.  The early adopter is respected by his or her peers, and is the embodiment of successful and discrete use of new ideas.  And the early adopters that to continue to earn this esteem of colleagues and to maintain a central position in the communication structure of the system, he or she must make judicious innovation decisions.  So the role of the early adopter is to decrease uncertainty about a new idea by adopting it, and then conveying a subjective evaluation of the innovation to near-peers by means of interpersonal networks.

We will now present some survey data from the TGI Chile study conducted by Time IBOPE in late 1999.  This is a survey of 2,003 persons between the ages of 12 and 64 living in the Gran Santiago area.  The key question here is "I am usually among the first to acquire new technology."  Among all adults, 6.8% of them either "Completely agree" or "Somewhat agree" with this statement.  We will call these people the "Early Adopters."

Of course, this question itself does not permit us to distinguish between Rogers' "Innovators" and "Early Adopters".  But, as Rogers pointed out himself, innovativeness is a continuous concept and the categorization into mutually exclusive discrete groups is just a conceptual device, like the categorization of socio-economic status into groups such as A, B, C1, C2, C3 and D.  So the survey question here is used to identify the innovators/early adopters in a loose sense.  We also note that the term 'technology' is used in a very broad sense here and may not be applicable to any specific instance of a technology, as a person competent in information technology may be untrained in biotechnology, a person who develops computer software may know nothing about network routers,  and so on. 

Since early adoption entails the ability to comprehend and manipulate complex technology, one would expect that these people to be well-educated and well-financed.  The next table shows the presence of the early adopters by education and socioeconomic level, showing the percentages and the index (which is 100 times the corresponding percentage divided by the 6.8% present in the adult population).  Indeed, we see that early adoption is a function of increasing education and socio-economic status.

%Early Adopters by Socio-Economic Level and Education

Demographic Variable/Class

% Early Adopters Index
Socio-Economic Level


Highest Level of Education Attained



(source: TGI Chile, Time IBOPE)

The adoption of technology could refer to either personal or business use.  However, it is extremely unlikely that these domains are separate.  That is, anyone who is an expert in an area of technology as a personal user is likely to be a resource within his or her work organization.  In the next table, we show the percentages of early adopters by job position and responsibilities.

% Early Adopters by Job Title and Business Purchase Responsibilities

Business Functions

% Early Adopters Index
Job Title
     Director/senior management
     Middle management/administration


Business Purchasing Responsibilities
     Telephone products/services
     Cellular telephone for business use
     Personal computers for business use
     Internet services for business use
     Fax machines



(source: TGI Chile, Time IBOPE)

If you were astute, you would have noticed that the citation above contains this sentence: "Communication patterns and friendships among a clique of innovators are common, even though the geographical distance between the innovators may be considerable."  This was written in 1983, before the Internet appeared.  Today, geographical distance between technology experts is largely irrelevant.  Even if someone else is just down the street, it is much easier to send an e-mail than to get out there.  Just as importantly, access to technology information is also much easier now over the Internet.

Among the early adopters, 27% of them have used the Internet in the last 3 months, compared to 16% in the population.  Here are some of their important uses of the Internet for the early adopters:

% Early Adopters by Internet Use

Internet Use

% Early Adopters Index
E-mail 14% 197
Download software 20% 294
Make purchase for work 24% 347

(source: TGI Chile, Time IBOPE)



(posted by Roland Soong on 2/11/00)

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