Scoble: The Idiots vs. the Non-Idiots

Posted on August 27, 2008
Filed Under Culture & Technology |

I was sent another classic Robert Scoble post from a reader in which Scoble coins another Web 2.0 euphemism - “passionates.”

Who are passionates? Early adopters. Which means, of course, that there are non-passionates, or late adopters.

Scoble discusses passionates and non-passionates in the context of a post by Dare Obasanjo, who points out that Web 2.0 companies should consider that building products that appeal specifically to early adopters can be problematic because early adopters don’t represent the mass market consumer.

Obasanjo concludes with a pragmatic piece of advice:

If you are a Web 2.0 company in today’s Web you really need to ask yourselves, “Are we solving a problem that everybody has or are we building a product for Robert Scoble?”

Scoble, of course, has a different perspective. He believes that in the world of technology startups, early adopters are “the ones who will adopt your product or service without you spending hundreds of dollars to get them to try it.”

Noting that a Kraft executive once told him that it costs $40 to acquire a new customer, Scoble jumps to the conclusion that “if you want to build a profitable business with very few resources you MUST forget about the non-passionates.”

That’s an interesting conclusion since most of the hottest Web 2.0 startups that appeal to first adopters like Scoble aren’t profitable and still have their lips clamped tight around a VC teat.

But reality aside, according to Scoble, it’s absolutely impossible to build a successful business without a lot of cash unless you target first adopters:

They [late adopters] won’t adopt your product unless you are lucky enough to be something like iLike. And even then your chances are pretty slim. I remember when Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, had a great review in USA Today and only got 40 downloads of his product. You think their ads are going to work any better? No, and no and no. Give it up, the non-passionates will probably never adopt your product and if you get them, it’s probably through some very good luck (iLike couldn’t happen if it were launched today, they needed the Facebook paradigm shift to happen for them to be successful).

Of course, there are plenty of very successful niche and mainstream companies around the world that were started on minimal budgets. So for Scoble, who is not an entrepreneur and who (according to his Wikipedia entry) has always worked for someone, to state that businesses achieve mainstream success primarily by pure luck is, for lack of a better word, idiotic.

While luck and its friend timing are almost always a factor in business success, there’s a lot more to it than that.

And the foundation for success is usually built by developing a product that meets a need or solves a problem. Whether you’re targeting a niche market of 50,000 people or every teenager in the United States, if you don’t have a product that appeals in some way to your target market, you will probably fail.

If ActiveWords, for instance, isn’t taking off and its positive review in USA Today didn’t “move the needle,” perhaps the company should evaluate its product. Clearly, the market just might be telling ActiveWords that it’s not solving a painful enough problem.

The bottom line is this: suggesting that new companies target first adopters who like their new products for little more than the fact that they’re “cool” or shiny is moronic. These are the same first adopters who will discard these products like they discarded their first generation iPhones once “the next big thing” comes along.

Moving on to Scoble’s pretentious hijacking of the word “passion,” let’s get real.

Different people are passionate about different things. Just because a person isn’t interested in signing up for every Web 2.0 service that launches doesn’t mean they’re not passionate. It just means that he or she is passionate about other things.

From photography to cars to mountain biking to wine, there is no shortage of things be passionate about and there’s something incredibly arrogant in using the words “passionates” and “non-passionates” to describe users of technology.

Scoble is passionate about technology for technology’s sake. That’s fine, although I think his passion has crossed the line into unhealthy obsession. But he should not mistake others’ lack of passion for standalone technology for lack of passion, which is exactly what he does by branding those who aren’t like him as “non-passionates.”

When I became involved in technology, I became involved because I was excited by the opportunity technology creates to add value to our lives (and because there is money to be made doing so).

Whether it’s a piece of accounting software that helps a business owner manage his business more productively or software that enables a mother to design a personal greeting card with her new daughter’s photo, most users of technology of technology aren’t passionate about the technology itself.

For most, technology is a means to an end, not the end. And while it may add value to our lives and intersect with our passions, it isn’t the biggest source of value and it isn’t a passion.

Unfortunately, much of the technology being produced today adds little of value to our lives. This is especially true in the world of Web 2.0, where many startups are producing utter rubbish precisely because they’re creating technology for technology’s sake.

And then the “entrepreneurs” behind these startups lament the fact that the mainstream “just doesn’t get it.” Idiocy at its finest.

It’s the rubbish of Silicon Valley that Scoble and his ilk celebrate. For somewhat obvious reasons, they can’t seem to exercise any common sense and their warped views of reality leave them incapable of recognizing the fact that passion comes in many forms.

As they say, different strokes for different folks. Hopefully someday Scoble and his friends will figure it out.

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7 Responses to “Scoble: The Idiots vs. the Non-Idiots”

  1. Robert Scoble on August 27th, 2008 10:30 am

    Interesting that you didn’t put down what entrepreneurs SHOULD do instead of listen to me. It’s easy to throw rocks. Harder to put up windows through which rocks are easily thrown.

  2. Drama 2.0 on August 27th, 2008 10:38 am

    Robert: I know you have a million things to read in the next 10 minutes (literally), but I believe you missed this:

    And the foundation for success is usually built by developing a product that meets a need or solves a problem. Whether you’re targeting a niche market of 50,000 people or every teenager in the United States, if you don’t have a product that appeals in some way to your target market, you will probably fail.

    Abbreviated ADHD version: build something that solves a painful problem. The more painful the problem, the greater the appeal.

    Common sense “entrepreneurial stuff” except, apparently, in Web 2.0.

  3. Stan Miller on August 27th, 2008 4:34 pm

    again, i think you’re being too hard on the kids. as i’ve said before, “meaningful invention is a sloppy process.” something will come out of all this web 2.0 nonsense. something will stick. but give it time.

    not everything can be instant profit potatoes.

  4. Drama 2.0 on August 27th, 2008 5:39 pm

    Stan: there’s one problem with your comment - these people aren’t “kids.” Robert Scoble is over 15 years my senior and even though I have a lot to learn and lot to experience, I find Scoble’s infantile black-and-white view of the world (and in this case mischaracterization of people who aren’t as into technology as he is) hard to write off as the product of a child who simply isn’t capable of knowing better.

    You’re right in predicting that something will come out of all this Web 2.0 nonsense. It’s called investor disappointment. Not that investors who put their money in funds that invest in this stuff deserve anything better.

    Web 2.0 is not about “invention.” It’s primarily about a bunch of wannabe entrepreneurs running around building “cool” applications for the sake of building “cool” applications all the while apparently wondering why the mainstream markets “just don’t get it.”

    At some point, mommy and daddy need to stop coddling them and telling them that they’re special.

  5. Doug on August 27th, 2008 7:49 pm

    Drama 2.0, you’ve hit bulls eye.

    Robert consistently uses concepts such as mass-market penetration and market share interchangeably.

    In addition, what he forgets in developing his conclusion is that the (misunderstood?) lessons of tech adoption, and Web 2.0 in particular, are not applicable to every industry, product and circumstance.

  6. Drama 2.0 on August 28th, 2008 10:49 am

    Doug: you make a valid point about the improper use of terminology. It seems that in the world of Web 2.0, economic and business terms are often thrown around without any solid understanding of what they actually mean. This, of course, leads to misuse but it’s not surprising given that most of the people in Web 2.0 don’t have a solid grasp of economics and business in the first place.

    What’s baffling to me about Scoble is that he has visited with so many companies and has spoken to so many business yet does not seem to have come away with a whole lot of new knowledge and insight.

    This may sound harsh and overly critical but it appears to me that for all of his “experiences” and “conversations,” he’s not gaining any new perspective, which begs the question - just what good are “experiences” and “conversations” if you don’t grow from them?

  7. Battle of the Conferences Set to Begin : The Drama 2.0 Show on September 3rd, 2008 7:37 pm

    […] attention in the world can only do so much, just as Scoble himself demonstrated when he pointed out that a product called ActiveWords apparently received less than 50 downloads after a USA Today […]

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.