Google Glass and the Sixth Dimension of Diffusion

First published August 29, 2013 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Tech stock analyst and blogger Henry Blodget has declared Google Glass dead on arrival. I’m not going to spend any time talking about whether or not I agree with Mr. Blodget (for the record, I do – Google Glass isn’t an adoptable product as it sits – and I don’t – wearable technology is the next great paradigm shifter) but rather dig into the reason that he feels Google Glasses are stillborn.

They make you look stupid.

The input for Google Glass is your voice, which means you have to walk around saying things like, “Glass, take a video” or “Glass, what is the temperature?” The fact is, to use Google Glass, you either have to accept the fact that you’ll look like a moron or the biggest jerk in the world. Either way, the vast majority of us aren’t ready to step into that particular spotlight.

Last week, I talked about Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Technology and shared five variables that determine the rate of adoption. There is actually an additional factor that Rogers also mentioned: “the status-conferring aspects of innovations emerged as the sixth dimension predicting rate of adoption.”

If you look at Roger’s Diffusion curve, you’ll find the segmentation of the adoption population is as follows: Innovators (2.5% of the population), Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%)  and Laggards (16%).  But there’s another breed that probably hides out somewhere between Innovators and Early Adopters. I call them the PAs (for Pompous Asses). They love gadgets, they love spending way too much for gadgets, and they love being seen in public sporting gadgets that scream “PA.” Previously, they were the ones seen guffawing loudly into Bluetooth headsets while sitting next to you on an airplane, carrying on their conversation long after the flight attendant told them to wrap it up. Today, they’d be the ones wearing Google Glass.


This sixth dimension is critical to consider when the balance between the other five is still a little out of whack. Essentially, the first dimension, Relative Advantage, has to overcome the friction of #2, Compatibility, and #3, Complexity (#4, Trialability, and #5, Observability, are more factors of the actual mechanics of diffusion, rather then individual decision criteria). If the advantage of an innovation does not outweigh its complexity or compatibility, it will probably die somewhere on the far left slopes of Rogers’ bell curve. The deciding factor will be the Sixth Dimension.

This is the territory that Google Glass currently finds itself in. While I have no doubt that the advantages of wearable technology (as determined by the user) will eventually far outweigh the corresponding “friction” of adoption, we’re not there yet. And so Google Glass depends on the Sixth Dimension. Does adoption make you look innovative, securely balanced on the leading edge? Or does it make you look like a dork? Does it confer social status or strip it away? After the initial buzz about Glass, social opinion seems to be falling into the second camp.

This brings us to another important factor to consider when trying to cash in on a social adoption wave: timing. Google is falling into the classic Microsoft trap of playing its hand too soon through beta release. New is cool among the early adopter set, which makes timing critical. If you can get strategic distribution and build up required critical mass fast enough, you can lessen the “pariah” factor. It’s one thing to be among a select clique of technological PAs, but you don’t want to be the only idiot in the room. Right now, with only 8,000 pairs distributed, if you’re wearing a pair, you’re probably the one that everyone else is whispering about.

Of course, you might not be able to hear them over the sound of your own voice, as you stand in front of the mirror and ask Google Glass to “take a picture.”


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