The Model - Java: One Year Out | WebReference

The Model - Java: One Year Out

The Model

The model against which Java is measured is Everett M. Rogers' innovation diffusion theory as outlined in his book, Diffusion of Innovations (1983). Rogers has been a renowned and leading diffusion theorist for over 30 years. In his book he defines the diffusion process and details the numerous elements involved.

Diffusion theory is a research approach which measures how an innovation is adopted among a population. After an innovation is introduced, it is adopted by a somewhat eccentric and/or entrepreneurial group called the innovators. This group, being slightly outside of the norm, does not possess the weight necessary to drive adoption. Change-agents or opinion leaders among the social system will step in next, thereby legitimizing the innovation and opening the potential for adoption to all members of the system, children's games call this "Follow the Leader," or "Simon Says." The next stage in an innovation's adoption is characterized by widespread adoption until such point that the innovation has saturated the social system and growth tapers off. This process is plotted by diffusion researchers as an S-shaped growth curve.


Vital to this particular study, Rogers attributes the immense popularity of diffusion studies, in general, to the ways in which they provide an understanding of social change. An innovation's diffusion process leaves visible traces that affect the social system, either by embracing or rejecting that innovation. These traces can then be measured for any impact to the social system. The diffusion of the World Wide Web alone has left visible traces on today's society. A cursory analysis of advertising bears witness to this fact as Web URLs appear ubiquitously on television and print ads. Java's current diffusion is not only leaving visible traces but implies industrial and social change. Rogers' diffusion model provides a way to document and make clear those implications.

An innovation's diffusion process leaves visible traces that affect the social system . . . . Java's current diffusion is not only leaving visible traces but implies industrial and social change . . . .

Model Components

The following components constitute the diffusion model. These are the aspects against which Java will be measured.


An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. [9]

An innovation contains five characteristics that help project its rate of adoption. Those innovations possessing more of the following characteristics have a greater chance of acceptance by the social system. The Java language was measured against these characteristics using technical specifications, media reports, newsgroup discussions, and documented developments from within the social system.

    Relative Advantage:
    "the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes."
    "the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters."
    "the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use."
    "the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis."
    "the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others." [10]

Communication Channels

A communication channel is the means by which messages get from one individual to another. [11]

The effectiveness of a communication channel decides the fate of an innovation's adoption. Mass media channels figure prominently in many diffusion processes because of their ability to carry information to a wide audience in a short amount of time. Another effective communication channel in the diffusion process is interpersonal communication. Information and advice from peers often carries more weight in an adoption decision than technical specifications or product documentation.

Included in this study are mass media channels composed of computer industry trade publications, both print and electronic, and mainstream news sources, such as the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Certain Web sites, because of their business affiliations, industry prominence, and availability to millions of Web users, will also be considered mass media channels. These sites include Sun Microsystems, Javasoft, EarthWeb's Gamelan Java Directory, Netscape Communications Corporation, and Microsoft.

The interpersonal channels in this diffusion process diverge from the traditional face-to-face interactions because interpersonal communications in the social system are carried on electronically via e-mail and newsgroup discussions. Various other Web sites, while available to millions of users, will be considered interpersonal communication because of the one-on-one nature of their communication. These sites are listed to individuals who discuss their ongoing Java projects and insights, and are not affiliated with industry change-agents, such as Sun Microsystems or Microsoft.

Social System

The social system constitutes the boundaries within which an innovation diffused and is composed of individuals, groups, and/or organizations. [12]

All members of a social system (innovators, change-agents, opinion leaders, early to late adopters) are joined in the common objective of seeking and spreading information about the innovation. Varying relationships within the social system occur among its members that can affect the diffusion process. The system also holds change-agents and opinion leaders who directly influence the course of the diffusion.


Diffusion studies measure (1) the timespan of first knowledge of an innovation through to acceptance or rejection and (2) the earliness or lateness of a system member's adoption compared with others in the social system. These ultimately determine the rate of adoption, from which can be calculated the total number of adopters and the times at which they adopt.

This study provides a snapshot of current activity, a reference point for future Java adoption measures. Because the diffusion process is yet ongoing, determinations regarding complete acceptance and rejection cannot be made.

The rapid communication rate quickens the diffusion process and shrinks the amount of time necessary for sharing knowledge . . . . The innovation, then, has a small time frame within which to establish itself.

For this particular innovation, time is extremely difficult to measure. The social system contains millions, all of whom have the potential to learn of the innovation at the same time. The communication channels involved, particularly the Web and e-mail, grant each member of the social system instantaneous communication. The ability to immediately communicate affects the time factor in ways that are impossible to measure fully. Determining first knowledge or measuring early versus late knowledge means different shades of minutes, days, and weeks.

Yet time is crucial to an innovation diffused among this social system. The rapid communication rate speeds up the diffusion process and shrinks the amount of time necessary for sharing knowledge and for making a decision about the innovation. The innovation, then, has a small time frame within which to establish itself.

Ted Lewis' article "The Big Software Chill" [13] examines "mainstreaming," or the ability for a technology to gain widespread appeal and use. Lewis' point is that a technology, good or bad, will thrive if it "captures the mainstream imagination within 5-10 years." He focuses on software in particular and argues that because the learning rates for software tools are far too slow, software fails the mainstreaming test. Research conducted by the Forrester Group, Inc. shows that visual development tools, Powerbuilder and Visual Basic, have the highest percentage of use (at 44% and 42%) among the 50 Fortune 1000 companies polled. C++ was used by only 20%. C++ development has slowed because it failed to achieve mainstream status after its initial momentum and subsequent early adopter phase. Developers are using nonprogrammer tools, such as Visual Basic, far more often than programming languages. Lewis states that programming languages are doomed to extinction unless they can achieve mainstream status. Paramount in achieving the mainstream, is a software technology that will quicken the learning curve for developers. Java must overcome complexity to garner necessary developers.

Comments are welcome

Copyright © 1996 Bridget W. Regan and
Created: May 17, 1996
Revised: July 31, 1996