Facebook and the early abandoners

February 14th, 2018

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy is transferred. It can't be created, or destroyed.

The way we adopt things follows that law.

We tend to think of early adopters as pioneers who take on the burden of testing out a new product or service before everyone else, constantly testing every option at once, never quite standing still.

But that's not how our world works. For a new product or service to be adopted, it's necessary for a different product or service to be abandoned. To pop something to the top of the stack, whatever's at the bottom has to be pushed away.

Let's use electric cars as an example. As an industry, it's very firmly in the "innovators" section of the adoption curve. A Tesla is a huge expense, and it still feels risky and experimental to most people.

Even so, the folks who waited in line to put a deposit down on their Model 3 aren't planning to keep their current vehicle when they finally take delivery. They're going to sell it. This is the law of thermodynamics in action.

Another example: smartphones. When the iPhone was unveiled in 2007, the mindset of people waiting in line on launch day was "I can't wait to abandon my dumbphone!"

What makes an early adopter unique isn't their willingness to start using something that's unproven. It's their willingness to abandon something that works perfectly well in hopes of finding something that could work even better.

To that end, a more apt title for this group is "early abandoner."

Yet another example to illustrate the difference: Facebook vs. Snapchat. Snapchat, despite taking a beating in the market, is growing like a weed, especially among teens and the coveted 18-24 demographic. The points above tell us that this new adoption necessitates an abandonment of another service that Snapchat competes with. That's exactly what's happening. For the first time in its history, Facebook is reporting its first ever drop in users, specifically, teen users:

To me what's more instructive than what people adopt is what they abandon. You can't call the next Samsung Galaxy an "iPhone Killer" until it's clear that people are abandoning the iPhone for it.

So is the writing on the wall for Facebook? Not quite.

Zucc saw this coming a long time ago and made moves to get ahead of it. Namely: the Instagram acquisition. In all the doomsday scenarios about Facebook, what's rarely shared is that these kids are abandoning Facebook for Instagram, a wholly-owned Facebook property.

Worrying about Facebook at this point would be like worrying about Chevy if a bunch of Malibu owners decide to buy Volts instead. The Volt is a higher-margin car, just like Instagram has higher user engagement. It's better for Facebook if people abandon it.

Well played, Facebook.