The Social Power of Market Dominance

There are some markets which are completely dominated by one product. That product is not necessarily the best, but once it becomes dominant in the market number of social, rather than technical factors help it to stay there.

I can’t get this to work – I must be stupid

Everybody knows that Microsoft’s Office products are easy to use – that is why everybody uses them. Thus if somebody finds that they can not get Word to do something, they conclude that the fault must lie with them.

Similarly everybody knows that everyone uses Zoom, so if they can’t get it to work the fault must lie with them, or their computer, or their Wifi, or something, whereas any other Video conferencing system has to work perfectly first time or it will never have a second chance.

I can’t get this to work – it must be stupid

Consider someone who is not technical, just wanting to get a job done, for example to produce a spreadsheet, and is persuaded to try, for example LibreOffice Calc rather than Excel. The person suggesting this probably does not, by preference, spend a lot of time producing spreadsheets, and so will have to do a bit of learning themselves to get the desired result. When this does not happen instantly the person who just wants a spreadsheet will switch to Excel, known universally to be easy.

Can I help you ?

Despite being ‘easy to use’ the market dominant products are not, in reality always easy to use, and there are lots of tips and ways of doing something that someone who spends a lot of time on Facebook, Word, Powerpoint, Zoom etc can share with their friends and colleagues who are struggling with some aspect of them. This makes the person who has helped feel good, and the recipient of the advice get the job done. This is good for everybody – especially the vendor of the market dominant product.

Can you help me ?

However hard you try, if you have a profession which has computers, or IT in the title, people will assume you are automatically going to help with one of the market leading products, even if, for example a network engineer or a software developer does not require advanced skills in office products.

As all spreadsheets, word processors, presentation software, video calling software and so on, have a common facilities ‘under the hood’ a computer professional is likely to find themselves, for example sorting an Excel spreadsheet by column into numerical order, or some such. This is not something I need to do very often myself, either in LibreOffice Calc, or Excel, but because I know it can be done, and have been using spreadsheets a bit every since Visicalc, if someone asks for help I groan inwardly, and find how to do it in Excel.

This not only means the spreadsheet user knows how to do another thing in Excel – which they can proudly show to others – but reinforces my reputation as someone to go to for help with Office products.

Feedback and networking effects

Google’s search engine is very good, and they do work hard to keep it that way, but they have a big benefit from the fact that not only do they want their users to be able to find what they are looking for, but the owners of websites want people to be able to find them through a Google search.

Similarly people want to use an Instant Messenger or Social network to keep in touch with their friends, and that means the one which dominates the market.

Willingness to learn in non dominated markets

When I learnt to drive my driving instructor had, I think, some kind of Triumph, with a normal gear level in the centre of the car, but the handbrake to the right of the driver (I am in the UK, so drive on the right – that is to say left 🙂 side of the road). My parents had a Peugot 404, which had a dashboard mounted gear lever, and a sickle handbrake. While still learning they switched to a Peugot 504, with a more conventional layout of controls. After I passed my test I bought a Mini, and since then have owned a variety of cars, and driven many other types of cars and vans, manual and automatic, on both sides of the road.

Because they are cars. people know, and expect them to be different and are prepared to spend a bit of time learning the differences. They also realise that different vehicles are good for different things. A little sports car is similar in concept to a minibus, but you would not try to carry a football team in the sports car. As it is software many medium companies which have grown gradually try to do everything on increasingly massive and ill-suited spreadsheets (Excel of course)

Even when there is a choice brand loyalty can be very significant. Switching between Android and Apple phones is something many people are not willing to do. (or persuading some small children to switch cereal brands !)

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