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The Online Overload | Online Research Taking over the World

2,405,518,376 – This is the number of internet users in the year 2012. Over 2 billion people. It’s safe to say therefore (especially when confronted with a staggering figure like that) that internet usage is at an unprecedented high, and it’s a figure that is growing every day. Online is one of the key ways through which we conduct Research, because it is the best way to reach the largest possible range of respondents. Of course there are several key online Research methods in action to conduct Research – surveys, communities, focus groups, surveys, mobile surveys and apps and bulletin boards. It’s a lengthy list and which offers unparalleled access to respondents that the more traditional methods of Research simply cannot compete with. What really separates online Research from the rest is the access it allows to respondents globally and across unlimited timeframes.

Online innovation…

With the rate at which online usage changes it seems inevitable that the way we do Research needs to change with it. As David Caplin, Chief envisioning officer for Microsoft UK puts it ‘technological innovations have had major changes, which researchers should consider when formatting online strategies’. In a world in which Research is not universally well received (madness I know), to have a new, more conspicuous way to reach a respondent is an amazing opportunity.  Online surveys are a brilliant alternative to telephone research (which naturally doesn’t work for everyone) as they allow respondents to fill surveys in on their own time at their own convenience. Many companies have taken this even further with the introduction of Gamification, an innovation which incrementally incentivises the respondent to answer a question. For example instead of saying ‘Describe yourself’ they would say ‘Describe yourself in exactly seven words’, therein making it a challenge, and far more interesting for the respondent. Heineken have found that “their most successful projects are the ones which allow customer participation”, therefore advocating the use of these methods even further. Whilst they are not necessarily that relevant in an offline setting, their use within online qual work is clearly invaluable.

Data as a commodity?

An unfortunate bi-product of online innovation is that Market Researchers are not the only ones seeing the internet as a new opportunity for Research. Google has turned its eye towards using their internet dominance to expand into the Market Research world. Following the success of their surveys during the US Presidential Election this really is no surprise. In a world in which data is fast becoming a commodity, it was only a matter of time before it was capitalised upon.  Google taking an interest makes perfect sense. Google’s Research will consist of consumer surveys to conduct online research, which will result in a hybrid of the ‘do it yourself’ online survey products and the less cheap, but more hands on approach offered by traditional firms.

As to whether this will be a challenge to the more established forms of Market Research will be seen over years to come. However what is clear for now at least is that online Research is here to stay.