Rate of Adoption: How it Works, Examples

What Is the Rate of Adoption?

The rate of adoption is the pace at which a new technology is acquired and used by the public. This rate can be represented by the number of members of a society who start using a new technology or innovation during a specific period of time. The rate of adoption is useful for making comparisons. One group's rate is compared to the adoption rate of another, often of the entire society.

Key Takeaways

  • The rate of adoption is the pace at which a new technology is acquired and used by the public.
  • Network effects strongly influence the rate of adoption.
  • The Internet and Facebook are successful and had high rates of adoption.
  • 3D televisions, as an example, never achieved anticipated rates of adoption.

Understanding the Rate of Adoption

The adoption rate is part of the diffusion of innovations theory. That theory seeks to explain how the use of new technologies, processes, and innovations spread through a society, and why they are adopted over old methods. It often determines when and how early adopters exist as well.

Network effects strongly influence the rate of adoption. Many technologies become more useful as other people adopt them. These technologies are said to benefit from network effects. The rapid growth of the Internet is perhaps the best-known example of a network effect boosting the rate of adoption. Between 1969 and 1994, the Internet was mostly used by the U.S. military and academics, with limited adoption elsewhere. The difficulty of accessing the Internet over the command-line text-based Telnet protocol limited the rate of adoption.

As the Internet became easier to use thanks to web browsers, the rate of adoption increased, and more services sprung up. However, computer equipment still cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the 1990s and required some skill to set up. There was concern over a digital divide in the early 21st century, as the poor often lacked access to the Internet. Fortunately, smartphones brought hardware costs down below $50 and also made getting on the Internet easier. The result was a higher rate of adoption among the poor.

Attributes of an innovation that affect the rate of adoption include the advantages of adopting the innovation and the ease with which it can be added to daily life. Furthermore, the ability of other members of society to see those who have already adopted the innovation and the expense associated with trying the innovation also impact the adoption rate. Another major factor that influences the rate of adoption is the type of society that is being introduced to an innovation. Closed cultures and societies without clear communication between adopters and non-adopters are less likely to take on a new technology.

Rates of adoption vary dramatically over time and go down as well as up.

Examples of the Rate of Adoption

Facebook is an example where status emulation and network effects combined to create a high rate of adoption. Facebook started as a way for Harvard students to network. It later spread to other colleges, where the lure of networking with Harvard's elites drew in users. Popularity on college campuses helped make Facebook's rate of adoption high. It soon became the biggest social network, making it the go-to choice for most users. Facebook had over 2.91 billion monthly active users (MAU) as of September 30, 2021.

While the pricing of new technology can be a factor in the rate of adoption, the features offered with innovation can influence the overall demand for the product or service. For example, smartphones, particularly the iPhone, were initially priced as luxury items. That made them exclusive items, with the cost factor as a potential hindrance to the adoption rate. The features and appeal of the iPhone nonetheless created demand among the public, which led to an accelerated rate of adoption for smartphones as a whole. As demand continued to grow and prices went down, smartphones spread rapidly among the public.

Not every innovation enjoys high rates of adoption. The complexities and limits of new technology can diminish demand and appeal with the target audience. For instance, virtual reality (VR) technology was offered to the public through a variety of formats and platforms between the 1990s and 2020. Despite improvements to the technology and more ways to access it, the rate of adoption remained relatively low as of 2021. The advent of the so-called "metaverse," however, may renew interest in VR.

A slow rate of adoption occurred with 3D television, which had promised to bring the cinematic visuals of 3D movies to the residential market. The constraints of 3D technology and its limitations in content for the home audience led to dwindling demand and minimal adoption rates by the public. Eventually, major manufacturers discontinued 3D television production as the rate of adoption never rose to anticipated levels.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Facebook. "Facebook Reports Third Quarter 2021 Results." Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.

  2. Ball, C., Huang, K. T., & Francis, J. (2021). Virtual reality adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic: A uses and gratifications perspective. Telematics and Informatics65, 101728.

  3. CNN. "Why 3-D TV still hasn't caught on." Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.

Compare Accounts
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.