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.

2.07.2005

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.