Many designers want to launch a well designed product and have it spread by word of mouth. It feels like the best product should just win. But in situations where the product is facing an incumbent and there are complimentary network effects, it’s simply not enough to launch a well designed product.
The hive effect — especially for social networks — is a particularly strong reason why it’s hard for a newcomer to gain traction. Take Google+: it’s fairly nice to look at, and it’s no more privacy-intrusive than Facebook. But nobody uses it because nobody else uses it (claims to the contrary seem to be based on poor a data collection methodology). Great points from Manzari on how to overcome these effects, at one point referencing an article by Chris Dixon:
A huge challenge for user-generated websites is overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem: attracting users and contributors when you are starting with zero content. One way to approach this challenge is to use what Geoffrey Moore calls the bowling pin strategy: find a niche where the chicken-and-egg problem is more easily overcome and then find ways to hop from that niche to other niches and eventually to the broader market.
I think Google tried to do this by making Google+ invite-only to begin with. But, while that created initial demand through exclusivity, it ultimately restricted the ability for it to be useful. Facebook was successful in a slow rollout because you didn’t have your friends on a centralized social network at the time, whereas Google+ started at a time when your friends were already on Facebook.