1. Five Sites That Might Change Market Research*

    *Or Kill It

    Earlier this month I gave a short talk on Research as a Social Object at the ARF's Re:Think 2009 conference. A lot of this talk was speculative - about what market research might do to engage participants as its understanding of social tools improved. My recommendation: turn as much of research as possible, from brief to recommendations, into a “social object” - something people can share, interact with, and talk about.

    Of course, some people already are doing this kind of thing. They aren’t market researchers, not always. They’re entrepreneurs or data wonks or just people looking to make interesting stuff for other people to do online.

    Here are five of the most interesting sites I’ve seen recently that take a “social object” approach to collecting opinions.

    1. Hunch: The new start-up from Flickr’s Caterina Fake, Hunch is billed as a “decision making tool” for its users - as the site learns more about you, its ability to help you out increases. At the moment it’s more promise than reality, so what’s so exciting about it? Firstly the extent to which it lets its community build its tools - every element of every survey can be rated, added to, tinkered with and altered by anyone. Like a wiki, this isn’t just crowdsourcing, it’s crowdbuilding. Secondly, Hunch has smashed the engagement barrier - within minutes I was gleefully answering questions like I’d never seen a poll before. My awed summary? “Imagine if market research had been invented for people not businesses.”

    2. Survey Monkey: Survey Monkey - which just got bought - isn’t doing anything new at all. But it’s offering professional looking, quite complex web surveys at a cost (free for some functions!) that puts it in reach of individuals and small businesses: a democratisation of research. The fact that you can let your respondents see the results is the big social plus. Of course, innovation at this end of the market is having a trickle-up effect - several large businesses (and researchers!) happily admit to using SurveyMonkey for an increasing amount of their decision-making needs.

    3. Opinion Space: Several academic researchers - like the ones at Berkeley behind this project - are looking at how to represent data more interestingly and attractively. Opinion Space uses five slider bars and an open question to create a fascinating data map which is great fun to locate yourself on and play with. Jaded researchers may just see it as a fancy correspondence map, but this kind of immersion in a survey could be very exciting - especially if combined with social networking tools.

    4. Matter Meter: Matter Meter demonstrates the power of a simple question to engage participants - “If [x] no longer existed, would it matter?”. As with Hunch, behind the basic idea there’s a wealth of social functionality - Twitter-style commenting, voting, following… so once you’ve started participating you can go as shallow or deep into Matter Meter as you like. A great idea from research firm Conversition.

    5. Yahoo Versus: Unlike the other sites I’ve mentioned, Yahoo Versus doesn’t look or feel slick. In fact it looks like what it is - an experiment. But it’s such a nice, simple idea - oppositional crowdsourcing: you pit two things against one another and solicit reasons - that it deserves wider take-up.

    There are a lot more innovative opinion-sourcing sites out there - I’ve not managed to dig deeply into mobile survey apps, into predictive markets, the latest crowdsourcing developments. I’m sure I’ll run another post in future. But I picked these five because I liked them, and because they seem to me to be at the vanguard of a movement mainstream research would do well to pick up on: putting the participant’s experience at the heart of any project.

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