Since the advent of the Internet, its users have been able to hide behind a certain vail of anonymity. So I wonder how can one use the web accurately to research market trends? Some of this will make sense, other times it will be a brain dump. Bear with me, this is a long term project in the making.


Open Research What?

I launched my purpose for the blog this week and am set to give a little more detail as to why I included open source in the title. We live our lives taking in so much data that many times we become immune or unaware of it. While driving to work you pass the same cars, trucks, SUVs, minivans and buses. When walking to your desk you pass the same people, the same rows of desks, the same computers and the same chairs. As the day comes to a close and you make your way home or to run errands, a pattern develops.

But, one day you are driving to work and a factory fresh car turns to join the pack of all too familiar vehicles. Or as you are walking to your desk you notice that the chairs are a different color and composed of plastic resin instead of metal. Maybe while you are performing your errands you notice that the same tube of toothpaste you normally purchase has been moved and replaced with teeth whitening strips.

What do these changes mean? To the untrained eye they are changes, possible nuances or just a random occurrence. To the trained eye they are possible trends taking form. The new car turning onto the road, did it capture people's attention? The new rows of chairs in the office, why did your company purchase them when they had a satisfactory set of chairs? The moving of your regular toothpaste and the featuring of new teeth whitening strips, why did they move your item and replace it with white strips?

Think of the one or two changes an individual might witness on a given day; multiply that by the population of the United States. Every day there are hundreds of millions of changes, some of them are random, others are orchestrated. Random or orchestrated, which should be ignored? Which should we pay attention to? How do we collect all of these data points and find the orchestrated patterns within them?

Open source research...we each serve a purpose in this world and we each encounter different changes each day, but if we were to all collectively log those changes we or someone might be able to see the patterns amongst the random data points. This is open source research...we each contribute on a daily or weekly basis, logging the changes we identify around us and are free to see what others are logging and to draw our own conclusions from the data. No one owns the data, no one owns the network we weave, but if you look at the data, you must add your own data. You must give to get in open source and the data is the gift that you must also give.


Open Source Research

Reading through a past issue of BusinessWeek magazine, I was intrigued by the cover story titled "Linux, Inc." I thought at first that this was a bit dated, seeing that the Linux/Open Source movement had been featured within BusinessWeek in the past. Although this time there was a different angle to the story, one that vaulted me to a new level of thinking about market research and the Internet.

I won't bore you with the history of the Internet here, but will remind you of the veil of anonymity it provides its users and how its use continues to grow. We can all look no further than the revenues of Google, eBay and Yahoo! to realize that Internet commerce and advertising dollars are real, not a bubble dream. Most of the revenues for Yahoo! and Google are derived from online advertising campaigns that are targeted at their anonymous users.

Furthermore, I work for a market research firm that currently conducts interviews over the phone and in person. The results of the interviews are aggregated and then presented to clients, which are not aware of the actual names of who we interviewed, but they are provided with some kind of qualifier. An example would be that we could state that we interviewed 25 of the top 50 computer resellers in the United States, but we would not tell the client who those 25 resellers were because we promise our sources we won't reveal their identity since they are sharing important information with us. Our clients pay us for research in which we do not identify our sources personally, we provide a sketch of who they are and what portion of revenues they represent or how they rank nationally.

So, what am I leading towards here with the talk of open source programming and anonymous research? Lately, I have been doing a lot of blog reading. I first got started reading a blog called Motoringfile that is all about the Mini Cooper. Today there are hundreds of thousands of blogs and I am adding to the number by starting this blog. I have been enamoured with the amount of consumer detail there is posted within these blogs and other online group sites. For instance, on Motoringfile this past weekend there were reviews of the new automatic transmission for the Mini Cooper S complete with reader input. I was fascinated by the sheer number of users that had also test drove the vehicle and offered their sentiments. This got me wondering, how many of these comments could I trust? What if I was Mini USA looking at this string of comments, how should I interpret what the contributors are saying? That set my mind spinning and I have not been able to stop thinking about that question.

So why am I starting a blog? My underlying premise is this; is there a proper way using the organization of open source programming and combining the consumer voice encapsulated within blogs and the near mass use of the Internet to increase the validity of online research? I don't know the answer, but I intend on reflecting upon the current work I do, which is rooted in a certain degree of anonymous research and combing through publications that work to explain the way online advertisers derive their marketing dollars to find out how to make online research more acceptable.

My goal in publishing this blog is to work towards providing insight into how I will prove or disprove whether the Internet groups and blogs can be as valued as much as face to face or telephone interviews. I plan on publishing an update to this blog at least once a week. Links to this blog are welcome and I am contemplating opening up a discussion for each posting. Down the road as I build a better understanding of how the open source community works since I hope to invite others to join into my study so that we can increase the breadth and decrease the time to test our hypothesis in the same manner Linus Torvalds has increased the functionality and durability of the Linux operating system.