FEATURE24 November 2010

Gaining access to the web’s ‘walled gardens’


‘Peak panel’ is upon us and capacity constraints are going to prompt researchers to look elsewhere for respondents, says GMI chief scientist Mitch Eggers. The web’s ‘walled gardens’ await.

Comley suggested in 2007 that the US might have already passed ‘peak panel’. Whenever it occured, Eggers says the effects will be felt keenly in 2011, with capacity constraints prompting researchers to look elsewhere for respondents.

“We will increasingly find respondents out in those environments where they most enjoy spending their time,” says Eggers. “It could be Flickr or Facebook – but 2011 will be a year when many other interesting internet sites will get our attention.”

For researchers this new reality may take a little adjusting to, as the role of respondent gatekeeper shifts from panel owner to website owner. Many of the most popular sites on the web, the social networks, are ‘walled gardens’ – which even the web’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee recently criticised for limiting the free flow of information.

Vaulting the walls is not an option, so researchers are going to have to negotiate with site owners to gain access to these vast pools of potential respondents – and site owners will be cautious about what content is presented to their members for fear of damaging their cherished relationships. In the brief time that business networking site Linkedin made its member base available for surveys, there were frequent reports of how prescriptive the site was about what could and could not be done with its sample.

Eggers prefers to the see the upside of this scenario: that researchers will be forced to create enjoyable, engaging surveys that treat respondents “delicately and with respect”. “It’s forcing a long-term protection of the relationship rather than short-term ‘churn and burn’,” he says.

“The history of market research has typically been one where we have overused whichever channel is available – mail, telephone, email,” says Eggers. “The interesting thing about the internet is that it is going to be increasingly difficult for market researchers to overuse it.”

With multiple potential sample sources out there, researchers need not worry about running out of respondents any time soon, though as we’ve seen with research panels themselves, each website or social network will have their own built-in biases as regards the demographic and psychographic make-up of their members or visitors.

This makes it difficult to produce samples representative of any population, though sample blending can help – but first researchers need to understand those biases. Eggers says GMI is using respected population surveys – such as the General Social Survey in the US – to act as a benchmark against which to compare the profile of a particular sample source.

As far as blending goes, once you know the bias of the various possible sample sources, you can counterbalance it to produce a set of results that should be projectable to the population you are looking to study.

GMI has already profiled six of the largest research panels in the US in this way, with similar work ongoing in Canada and the UK, and Germany, Australia and France to follow.



10 years ago

I echo the sentiment here expressed by Mitch. ‘Peak panel’ may not have happened quite as quick as I thought. This was probably due to the recession dampening demand in the last few years. However the time will soon be upon us as the downturn has caused an increase switching MR online to save money. This has been exasperated by the fact that the industry has still not learnt its lesson over bad survey design, long questionnaires, excessive screen outs and the generally poor way it treats its respondents (ie ‘customers’). This is increasing attrition rates and those people we’ve burned will never help the industry again. The fault here probably does not lie with panel providers like GMI but with their clients (both agency & buyers) who are too far removed from the sharp end to realise what their demands are doing to the end customer. I hope Mitch is correct that it will lead to shorter and simpler more fun surveys, but personally I doubt it until it is too late. I am also unsure whether Mitch is right though that we’ll be able to supplement samples from other Internet ‘walled gardens’. My guess is that those walls will be getting higher and more expensive for MR to surmount. Instead, like I postulated in my original paper, I see one of the implications being the growth of client panels and communities and lower usage of general access panel samples (which will become much more expensive as scarcity of sample drives us the price).

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10 years ago

Online communities are just helping us get our act correct at the right time. We the online research fraternity are riding on a sinusoidal wave and we are still on the positive end of the curve and have miles to go before the market shifts towards other preferred methodologies. Sample Source :- Super Critical !! With so many sample providers existing in the market and everyone claiming to ride high on quality we MUST figure out the sample source. Results are bound to differ depending on the sample source. Peak Online Panels :- It will keep on increasing. With so many providers continuously recruiting for their online panels and so much of diversification happening in the industry the head counts will keep multiplying. Increasing internet penetration in the developing nation supports the fact. Online Communities :- Much casual approach and respondents will love to know open up and speak up their minds. The essence of Online Communities must remain unhampered to get quality responses. Would be quite amazing to know how respondents conduct themselves when they are with their peers,buddies,chat mates etc. We have just standing on the river bank with our life jackets and it’s a matter of time we are on the side of the bank with new rivers to be crossed and conquered.

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