CRITICAL MASS THEORY

Ashley LaRosa and Lauren Chrisman

The Critical Mass Theory surmises that, at a certain point, the number of early adopters of a new product sparks an increase in popularity and leads to a greater adoption of the product by late adopters. Early adopters of new ideas, concepts or inventions are typically limited in numbers, as many people tend to prefer to use products that have been tested and approved. As these early adopters increase in numbers and continue to use the new products, others typically follow suit. For this reason, at a certain point, the new item becomes widely more accepted. Our textbooks highlight examples in the field of technology however, the Critical Mass Theory can exist in an infinite number of changes.

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Figure 1. Critical mass point among early adopters. This figure illustrates the point in which early adopters reach the critical mass point, thus expiditing the numbers of later adopters.

The existence of these “early adopters” then makes it cheaper and more valuable for later adopters to embrace the new products. This is because, as the number of adopters increases, the costs associated with usage decrease. When the product is in the early stages, with only a few individuals using them, the products are more costly as the inventors work to break even. Similarly, the value of the product may also be limited if other individuals are not also using it. For example, what good is email if no one else has email? Who would you send your messages to? This theory shows the significance of the initial critical mass that adopts the new product from the beginning and how that group ultimately determines the success of the product down the road.

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Figure 2. Adoption rates related to market share. This figure illustrates the idea that market share continues to increase as more people adopt a product, particularly after the critical mass point.


WHEN IT COMES TO ORGANIZATIONS...

we look to Facebook. During its beginning, Facebook was geared towards the college crowd. To create a username within Facebook, a user needed to have an active college email address. These initial users would have been considered the early adopters of Facebook (the innovators being the creators). As more college students created profiles on this social media site and “friended” one another, the site grew in popularity, causing the demand to grow even further. Soon, parents wanted to be able to login to see pictures of what their sons/daughters were doing while away at school. Parents also wanted to be able to connect with their own group of friends and reconnect with people that they had not spoken to in years. Due to this new demand, Facebook then allowed users access to create a username with any type of email. It was at this point that Facebook began to hit Critical Mass. The site became widely accepted, and literally "everyone and their mother" wanted to login!


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At a press conference on June 29, 2011, Facebook Creator/CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the current trends of Facebook as well as where he saw the site heading in the next five years. Zuckerberg stated, “I think the real cool trend that’s right about to happen is that we’ve now reached this critical mass where now I think people are starting to take social infrastructure seriously. So if you’re an app developer, an entrepreneur, just like there was this time where the Internet took a while to develop, before people really decided, OK, I’m going to switch from building desktop software and now primarily build Internet stuff because this infrastructure is mature, I think we’re now starting to get to that on the social side of things where there’s now a lot of interesting apps that can get built that can just assume that all of their users, or 90 percent of them, are a part of a social network where they can easily have their friends there, can easily share with their friends.”



WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT THOSE EARLY ADOPTERS?








References
Boctor, P. (2011, June 30). Facebook’s Zuckerberg: TV, books, movies next in line for social disruption - GeekWire. GeekWire - Dispatches from the Digital Frontier. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://www.geekwire.com/2011/transcript-audio-zuckerberg-apps-facebook-massively-disrupt-media-industries/
College Humor video blog. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VekUJcbIhJg

Doolittle, E . (2012, March 13). The tipping point for adoption of enterprise social networks. [Weblog comment]. Retrieved from http://www.tibbr.com/blog/adoption/the-tipping-point-for-adoption-of-enterprise-social-networks/

Jablin, F. M., & Putnam, L. (2001). New media and organizational structuring. The new handbook of organizational communication: advances in theory, research, and methods (pp. 556-557). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Kaminski, J. (Spring 2011).Diffusion of Innovation Theory Canadian Journal of Nursing Informatics, 6(2). Theory in Nursing Informatics Column. http://cjni.net/journal/?p=1444

Miller, K. (2011). Technological processes. Organizational communication: approaches and processes (6. ed., p. 242). Boston, Mass.: Wadsworth.