The very visual metaphor that is embodied by the chasm is meant to explain the gap between the customers you do have and getting your product used by everyone. You can see some good explanations here of what it is.
Over the years in the Ubuntu community I’ve grown to dislike this particular metaphor. Not just because we cant seem to learn anything useful from it to enable our community to succeed, but also because its a very weird way to look at the problem. The problem is not number of users or products sold per year, but how your ideas are spread through the population by other people.
For example if we were to think of the chasm as just about getting the majority of people to use your product, then we can consider Apple to have failed to cross the chasm in their desktop computer market. But if you change the concept of success to “people think and talk about” my product then apple is wildly successful. Even the legions of windows users aspire to and understand ownership of an Apple computer. Many of these people will have never used a Apple computer in their lives but will actually change
their way of thinking about desktop computers in order to incorporate Macs into that world view.
So what is the role of advertising? Well that depends on how good the advertising is by how much of an effect advertising has on the population. So if you produce a perfect advert, it can only have a certain effect on the people who see it and then you have to run it a lot or hope those that saw the advert will pass on the ideas your trying to communicate. Since adverts are known for being fairly weak forms of idea transmission you would have to run a lot of adverts for a long period of time to basically force the population to adopt a new set of ideas. This is also known as “throwing money at the problem” since you don’t have to do much leg work with your message in order to get it out there.
What is a strong form of idea transmission is word of mouth. This is easy you might think, anyone who uses your product would be naturally inclined to tell their friends about it! Ah, just because a set of ideas find a home doesn’t mean they’ll find a good way of spreading. You will get a set of customers who enjoy using your product, but no one outside of that group will really know about it. This forms them chasm in the metaphor mentioned above. Its created by a reluctance of your users to communicate your ideas
to the people they know.
As an example i present to you RedHat. Way back before Ubuntu, it was very uncool to run a server with linux, only really technical people did so and usually not with the knowledge of their bosses. Then a company comes along and spreads the idea that Linux can be brilliant on the server, they’ve done something to it or cast a spell of invincibility or something. But even if Linux was exactly the same technically, it was now completely different and new in the eyes of many more people.
The technical users started telling their bosses, other professionals, the word got out not because the technology changed, but because the message was sent with a renewed vitality and conviction that it was new, improved, important and could save you a bag of money to boot.
And that particular war drum has been beating ever since.
Then comes Ubuntu many years later. The same thing happens in fact, Ubuntu creates hope and a renewed vitality for spreading the message. “hey did you know you could run Ubuntu on your desktop computer?” it became cool to tell your friends you used Ubuntu, that maybe they should give it a try or let you
give them a try with a helping hand. Ubuntu wasn’t massively better that Mandrake, Mandriva or SuSE, it was just getting out a clearer and more easily spread message.
Spreading the meme over the chasm
What we’ve done is incredible. Many more people run a Free Desktop now than in 2004. But the message got old over the years, the faith and the vitality has waned and public relations issues have made the message of spreading Ubuntu to everyone you know less appealing and seem more risky.
Nothings really changed. Ubuntu is really getting better and better as a technology, but its message, its “meme spreading” capabilities aren’t what they used to be. New products like Ubuntu TV and Ubuntu phones are interesting and renew some of the flagging faith and in a bring back the old religion in seeing a Free and Open Source platform flourish somewhere.
We secularists tend to think of religion and faith as nasty, dirty emotionally charged system and we should focus instead on proving with data that we are the best and only supporting Ubuntu if it really is the best. But that’s not how humans work, we’re far more emotional and biased and working with that is what produces this chasm effect in the market; if you’re before the chasm then the bias is working against you, if you’re over the chasm then the bias is working for you.
We want to take on the world, and it can be done. Ubuntu can be installed on every computer within a mile of
where you live, that there is nothing it cant do without a bit of persistence and faith that Ubuntu can work. Each and every member of the community is a mass of human interaction; chance after chance to spread our ideas and get the message out there that “you may not use Ubuntu, but think of Ubuntu when you think of computer desktops”.