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Is there a word or phrase that encapsulates this recurrent scenario? Let me give a couple examples.

A limited amount of land is cheap or free in a given area. The people who get there first get all the land. They can then set the price so that people who come later and still want land might end up paying much much more. This applies to any limited resource that is desirable.

On sister site Stackoverflow people ask programming questions. The first people who asked and answered the most basic questions about given languages in the early stages of the site received thousands of upvotes and reputation points. Basic questions are broadly applicable to learners of a programming language, so whoever was there first is by far the most visible and rewarded. Those questions can never be asked again (in theory) without being marked as duplicates.

"Early adopters" comes to mind, but it's limited in scope and only partially applicable as a category of people. The phrase doesn't imply that there are definite, intrinsic, and limited benefits to gain by being among the first to do something, benefits which will not be available, or available in diminishing amounts, to later arrivals because they will have already been used up or claimed.

  • Can't answer, but you should un-check the answer you checked. All the answers that I can see are not good matches for this concept. The early bird gets the worm is about being early, not about early movers accumulating unassailable positions over time. The concept is partly about "first movers", but it's actually about "early movers", not just first-comers. For example, you can't make a facebook competitor, because it's too late. One of the early blogs in any given niche has unassailable subscribership. Ditto for YouTube channels, operating systems, app stores, movie studios, and music genres. – Tom Mercer Feb 13 at 16:13
  • It's not about being first. MySpace is dead. Most first-movers fail. "Fast follower" is a common business strategy. There ought to be a word/phrase for this concept, but I'm not sure there is. "The rich get richer" partially describes it, but doesn't capture the concept of being part of the early (but not necessarily first) exploiters of an opportunity. – Tom Mercer Feb 13 at 16:16
  • Found a useful phrase: Preferential Attachment Processes: youtu.be/fCn8zs912OE?t=761 – Tom Mercer Feb 14 at 23:46

10 Answers 10

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The idiom is "The early bird catches the worm."

"The early bird catcheth the worm." first recorded in John Ray's A collection of English proverbs 1670, 1678.

This has been shortened to "early bird" and "early riser" but it is a bit towards the colloquial and not exactly a technical term.

"Early adopter" has no value attached to it. You could be an early adopter and not benefit or gain anything (even worse, gain pain) from it.

Early bird has the problem of context, where it could just mean that you were someone who does things earlier than normal: an early bird special is for people who eat dinner before a dinner rush, for example, and not wholly about "benefiting from early adoption."

Long story short, there is no single term for "early adopter + one who gained from adopting early" aside from the idiom.

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    And, of course, the early worm gets eaten! – Hot Licks Feb 10 at 21:34
  • He that would thrive must rise at five - he that hath thriven can lie till seven, is a proverb of similar ilk. – WS2 Feb 11 at 9:32
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    The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese! – Muzer Feb 11 at 11:49
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    And if you want something else for breakfast, stay in bed longer. – RedSonja Feb 11 at 11:56
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    @HotLicks Unless of course the early worm is early enough that it gets all its worming out of the way before the early bird shows up – Mike S Feb 11 at 21:11
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In business, there’s the phrase “first mover advantage”, implying that the first company to set up in a particular field will do better than later arrivals.

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    I was about to suggest this. Given OP's context, this seems the most apt. – Harsh Kanchina Feb 12 at 4:36
  • also known as first to market – Erich Feb 12 at 4:51
25

Another idiom:

Getting in on the ground floor -- investing or joining something small, before it gets big.

be/get in on the ground floor

to be or become involved in something from the beginning:

He was sure that he was getting in on the ground floor with the next big thing.

Can someone tell me how you get in on the ground floor of a deal like that?

(From dictionary.cambridge.org)

Sample usage:

But even those [really big] companies had to start somewhere, and maybe you're more interested in getting in on the ground floor of the next big household name.

(from entrepreneur.com)

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  • I like this because it can be applied in any context. First mover advantage is great for business only, but a person, loosely affiliated group of people, or a company could all "get in on the ground floor" and it does seem to impart a positive sense of always being beneficial. – Anthroparchy Feb 12 at 23:02
12

Australian English has the expression "First in, best dressed", which means exactly this. I've also heard it used by New Zealanders.

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11

The expression I always hear is first come, first served

first come, first served
The first people present will be the first to receive something, often something that is available in limited quantities.

A negative way of stating the same thing is "If you snooze, you lose."

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7

In your second paragraph, "land" is referenced. So a relevant idiom is

Land Grab which leads to Pioneer

Both phrases imply someone who is "first into an undeveloped area" and is seizing the available territory.

Pioneer is extended to mean being first into any area, whether it be a scientific research field, or space, or a business.

Ant was a pioneer in the business of refurbishing forklifts with Tesla motors...

Land Grab is exactly what pioneers to an area do - they stake out a patch of land for themselves, as much as they can afford because the land will never be cheaper, and they reap the most benefit from being first.

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    Be careful with "land grab", since it's often used in a pejorative sense to suggest that the person who's benefiting is doing so through unethical, unscrupulous, or illegal means. Also, pioneers are the first to do something, but not necessarily the best or most profitable at it - on the contrary, lots of pioneers have a very difficult time at whatever they're pioneering, since it's never been done before. It fits well in the OP's context, but doesn't always imply success over people who come later. – Nuclear Wang Feb 11 at 21:00
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    @NuclearWang That is how I read the question, with a slightly negative bent. Pioneers grabbing land, It's even true that early stack overflow posters denied those questions/votes to those who came later--not as a deliberate choice but--well that's the way it turned out. The way I read the question, the "Early bird" answers sound way too positive. This is the answer that describes how I read the question--but it doesn't really include a good idiom as an answer (Land Grab alone seems incomplete). Still, +1 – Bill K Feb 11 at 22:13
  • I still pick up rep from answers given years ago. There are some users who have such a corpus of Q&A that despite going inactive months or years back, they are still gaining rep slowly but consistently. – Criggie Feb 11 at 23:44
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First in, first served?

To me the phrase "early bird catches the worm" is always followed by "but second mouse gets the cheese", which feels like it dampens the meaning of the phrase

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    That's "First come, first served" in British English. Where are you from BTW? The OP may be interested in having a localised version. (Or just go for "early bird", of course.) – Graham Feb 11 at 8:43
  • @Graham is that really a BrE thing? I have never even heard of the first in version, myself. Luffy, what dialect do you speak? Where is this version from? I can't even find a hit for it on Ngrams. – terdon Feb 11 at 12:03
  • @terdon I've not heard of it either - I'd expect to hear "First come, first served", as you say. But with the diversity of English dialects, I'm wary about absolute pronouncements on colloquial phrases! :) So I'll give Luffy the benefit of the doubt and allow that they might have a local version which is slightly different. Hence asking where "local" is. – Graham Feb 11 at 12:21
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In Danish: "Den der kommer først til mølle, får først malet". Literally (wordby word): "The one who comes first to the mill, gets first grinded". This is a commonly known phrase in Denmark, even among young people (I guess). By the way, notice the ethymological family: mill, mølle, malet.

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    Hi Niels. Thanks for answering, but as this is a site about English Language, phrases not idiomatic to the language are not really appropriate. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 11 at 9:26
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    I still appreciate the answer and it certainly doesn't hurt anyone, Thank you Niels! – Bill K Feb 11 at 22:15
  • I offered it as a curiosity plus somebody might recognise the same idiom in, let's say, Scottish. – Niels Holst Feb 11 at 22:39
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    Your downvotes are unfair. Chaucer wrote in the Wife of Bath's Tale "Whoso comes first to mill first gets meal ground", see librarius.com/canttran/wifetale/wifetale385-400.htm – Christoffer Hammarström Feb 12 at 13:26
  • Just as I thought! Chaucer, that lazy bustard, was ripping off the Danes! The nerve of that guy!!! – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Feb 12 at 18:39
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The idiom : “fortune favors the bold” is applicable for your examples.

From wiktionary.org, it means that “Luck is usually on the side of those who take chances and risks”.

The people who ‘goes there first’ are those who take chances and they will always get the most benefits(if there are any).

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1

The phrase "Greenfield opportunity" is often used to describe such an advantage.

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