Public Release: 

Early adopters prefer earliest access

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Widespread adoption of a new technology often relies on a small subpopulation of people who take the lead, but what happens if those natural early adopters can't adopt early, or, choose not to? In this Policy Forum, Christian Catalini and Catherine Tucker highlight results from an experiment with Bitcoin, a type of digital money, finding that if natural early adopters (NEAs) are prevented from adopting a new technology, this can have a cascading negative effect on adoption across the rest of the population. In 2014, MIT gave several thousand undergraduates $100 in Bitcoin, but some among this group were given access to their money two weeks after others. Also as part of this experiment, student recipients of the Bitcoin funds filled out a survey speaking to what degree they thought of themselves natural early adopters. Two weeks after accessing the Bitcoins, among students who would have naturally adopted the technology later, according to their self-reported survey results, the cash-out rate (the rate at which this group exchanged Bitcoin for real money and stopped using the technology) was almost identical - whether they were granted initial or delayed access. Among the self-proclaimed NEAs, however, cash-out rate significantly increased when access was delayed, from 11 to 18%, meaning they were much more likely to stop using the technology if they were not the first to access it. The authors explored whether social factors influenced these trends, which they confirmed; for example, the effects were more pronounced in smaller dorms, where students participating in the experiment were more likely to recognize they were on a delay. The authors also observed a spillover effect, where use of Bitcoin in dorms with a larger share of delayed NEAs decayed at a faster rate over time than those with a lower share.

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