Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Diffusion of Innovations and Technology

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EM Rogers first wrote about the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) theory in the early 1960s. Since then, it has been used in studies across numerous fields including, but not limited to, agriculture, healthcare and technology. DOI itself revolves around the study of the spread of ideas or products with the ultimate goal being complete saturation of a specific market.

One can easily look at the introduction and adoption of types of technology and find examples of successful diffusion. Both the television and the mobile phone would fit into this category. In the infancy of both products, there were small numbers of innovators willing to the take the risk and purchase the product. Slowly, through a combination of lower costs and societal expectation leading to high demand, most homes in developed countries have at least one television and most adults (and many pre-teens and teenagers) have at least a basic cell phone.

Oftentimes it is easier to study the diffusion of a type of product (like a cellphone) rather than a specific implementation of a product (like Android phones or iPhones). A major reason behind this is that to succeed in diffusion, saturation is the end-game. Because different implementations that meet the same need can co-exist profitably, it would be illogical to try and apply DOI theory to every new technology. Ultimately Android phones, iPhones and Windows phones are all failures in terms of diffusion. But they are by no means market failures.

This is not to say that there are no diffusion successes to be found in implementation. Data storage formats, specifically those for video, contain two good examples. In the cases of BetaMax versus VHS and then HD DVD versus Blu-ray, the winners were adopted to the point where the loser went extinct. While many people will say that Blu-ray is indeed superior to HD DVD, it is still questionable whether VHS was better than BetaMax. For that reason, the quality of the product itself only plays a small part in the end result. Rather, a combination of fiscal and social reasons resulted in VCRs playing VHS tapes in many homes and Blu-ray players coming standard on both the PS4 and Xbox One.