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Network and Social Effects Relating to Technology Adoption

Shaping Technology Across Social Works: Groupware Adoption in a Distributed Organization, Mark and Poltrock (2003), examines the adoption of a remote collaboration technology known as NetMeeting within The Boeing Company during the late 1990’s to early 2000’s. NetMeeting, installed on computer workstations, allowed employees to videoconference while sharing the information on their workstation as well and interact remotely with applications running on other workstations running NetMeeting. This technology gave teams, often spread between different Boeing office/manufacturing sites, the ability to share information and communicate as though they were physically co-present. NetMeeting was never forced upon Boeing employees, and its use was allowed with varying restrictions. In this journal article, Mark and Poltrock (2003) focus on a Boeing site referred to as “Central City”, which placed restriction on NetMeeting use that require users to demonstrate a need before being granted permission, and users were not permitted to promote its use to others one wasn’t collaborating with. However, NetMeeting use spread as more employees found themselves working with others who were already using NetMeeting and had heard through casual conversation the benefits NetMeeting provided. Eventually NetMeeting became a standard at “Central City”, as well as Boeing as a whole. While Mark and Poltrock (2003) examine this case as the diffusion of technology between social-worlds, it can also be viewed as an information cascade resulting from a direct benefit effect.

The use of NetMeeting gradually spread from user to user, team-to-team, site-to-site, because of the improvement NetMeeting provided compared to alternative modes of remote collaboration. Mark and Poltrock (2003) also documented cases of when employees had started using NetMeeting without permission and without directly needing it before they started using it, an example of a Direct Benefit Effect. This behavior is a direct benefit effect because so many Boeing employees were already using NetMeeting, and therefore these users felt it necessary to violate their instructions and go ahead and use despite not asking for permission. Over the course of several years, NetMeeting use spread from a few to almost all employees using it.  Which Mark and Poltrock (2003) refer to as a Critical Mass where there was no longer any way of controlling NetMeeting’s adoption, clearly a case of Information Cascade (Note: critical mass is a reference to the fact that nuclear reactions undergo a cascading chain reaction that occurs once critical mass is reached). However, it is important to recognize the spread of NetMeeting is not a case of Pure Direct Benefit because the benefits of NetMeeting are directly linked to its ability to facilitate the collaboration of networks of employees and teams. NetMeeting is a very early example of  the companies using the internet as a means for remote collaboration that allows remote users to interact with the same application environment in real-time. Today there are many different commercial products available for this purpose, and these face competition between each other to attain the critical mass needed to become widely adopted. A system such as NetMeeting does not face this because it spread within a closed market of a very large multinational company: Boeing. Network effects like direct benefit will play a crucial role in this competition, however so will information effects created by advertising and the perception of the product by potential adopters.


Mark, G. and Poltrock, S. (2003). Shaping technology across social worlds: groupware adoption in a distributed organization. In Proceedings of the 2003 international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work (GROUP ’03). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 284-293.

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-William Tyler Nebel


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