OPINION31 October 2011

Esomar 3D: Winners and losers


Esomar 3D wrapped up on Friday. Plenty of concepts and techniques were discussed, but which ideas are on the ladder of success and which are sliding down the snake of ignominy? Tom Ewing reports.



Gamification: The hype’s been building ever since last year’s Festival of NewMR, and gamification was ever-present here. InSites and TNS offered gamified presentations, Research Through Gaming’s Betty Adamou chaired a session on the subject, and it even inspired a fringe debate on day one. There are two schools of gamification. The dominant strain, represented by InSites, Adamou and GMI’s Jon Puleston, sees the technique as a way of super-charging respondent engagement and massively increasing the volume of rich data research can produce. An emergent reading, from Best Presentation winner Peter Harrison of BrainJuicer, builds on this to hypothesise that games can change participant contexts and make them more realistic. It’s this idea that offers the best counter to the gamification sceptics – represented elegantly here by Element54’s Bernie Malinoff – who suggest its massive research effects might be too big a price to pay. Will it ever be mainstream? Some suggest it’s not even big enough to be a fad. But this was gamification’s moment in the limelight, and it caught the audience’s imagination.

Emotion: Alastair Gordon of nViso put forward a compelling case for facial imaging software – probably the biggest gosh-wow technology of the conference. Facial imaging lets researchers understand consumer response by examining their emotions directly, and taps into a growing feeling that our techniques for ad testing, for instance, are hobbled by not taking emotion more fully into account. But the conference’s most emotional moment came from Koki Uchiyama of Hottolink in Japan, who presented a moving case study of how social media analysis tracked Japan’s recovery from the earthquake this year and subsequent disasters. His heartfelt thanks for the support offered to Japan at this time brought a human dimension to the conference. As one tweet put it, “Koki is a hero.”

MROCs 2.0: Research communities had their moment in the sun on day two, when Isabella Hoi Kee Wong from Philips Design presented Menumenu, a food-based community of young people – recruited directly from social media – which had sparked jaw-dropping levels of engagement and creativity. Menumenu was put together by a design agency, not a research shop, which was apparent in the degree of innovation on show. Not that research agencies were lacking in good ideas: Communispace shared their experience in building international communities, and InSites offered an example of their “crowd interpretation” approach, where participants analyse community output to extract insights in bulk.

Prezi: After conference upon conference dominated by PowerPoint, any competitor is to be welcomed, and this year many speakers turned to web-based presentation tool Prezi, whose distinctive swoops and zooms soon became very familiar. Prezi solves one of the key problems with PowerPoint – it forces presenters to think in terms of a performance, not a document. But its box of tricks feels limited, and like PowerPoint it encourages people to chunk information rather than build a real story. Prezi itself might not last, but it’s proved that PowerPoint isn’t unassailable and in future we’ll see a lot more innovative, web-based presentations.

Mobile: Always the conference bridesmaid, never the bride – it’s been mobile’s year for so long now the claim is starting to become a joke, but now we’re seeing case studies – from Jana and Ipsos Mori – to back up the hype and the dazzling usage statistics. According to Adhil Patel of TNS, experts feel that mobile will account for a bigger share of research spend than online within the next two-to-four years. Some are sceptical, but Nathan Eagle of Jana presented a compelling case that mobile-centric markets in the developing world will drive future growth. Ipsos Mori used the British Royal Wedding to show off mobile’s capability for real time ethnographic insight. Perhaps this time the mobile hype is on the button.


Text analytics: With firms who specialise in text analytic work mostly absent from the conversation, there were plenty of speakers happy to take a potshot at the discipline. Both meaning and sentiment analysis took something of a bashing. Vision Critical’s Ray Poynter chose an academic line of attack, talking about how conversation analysis and discourse theory could reach meanings typical data crunching couldn’t. Other speakers – including Sean Bruich of Facebook – took the more familiar line that NLP and other text techniques still can’t deal with basic contextual information. Text fans must wince when they hear people mention the different contextual meanings of “wicked”, but the prevalence of these hoary examples just underlines how there’s still a long way to go before people are convinced that text analysis works. But since much of the most compelling evidence at Esomar 3D was from video and photo data, perhaps it doesn’t even matter.

Boredom: The research industry has historically been a staunch contributor to global reserves of boredom. Researchers have beaten the drum for engagement for a long time, but finally the will to tackle the issue is dovetailing with new technology – practically speaking, mobile surveys have to be short, as Decipher’s Kristin Luck pointed out. It’s easier than ever to use video in research, and more acceptable than ever to ask participants to co-create or provide rich data. And just in time, since as the Future Foundation’s Dominic Harrison pointed out, “Smart Boredom” means that there’s no such thing as downtime any more. Even the industry itself is becoming more fun, with groups like Fringe Factory, BAD and the Research Mafia cutting across competitive silos to encourage research collaboration.

Malcolm Gladwell: According to keynote speaker Philip Sheldrake, it’s the influenced, not the influencers, who matter. Plenty of other speakers – from Poynter to Bruich – agreed. The “tipping point” model of influence, popularised by Gladwell, is being replaced by one which owes more to thinkers like Duncan Watts and Mark Earls, who stress the unpredictable, networked dimensions of virality.

The Dogs that Didn’t Bark (And One that Got Muzzled): As Stakhanovite blogging machine Jeffrey Henning noted, certain topics didn’t really surface. Online qual had minimal presence beyond MROCs – leaving out the synchronous end of things. Big data and its almighty algorithms were often mentioned in the background of the conference but rarely addressed head-on. Neuroscience showed up only as an occasional punching bag. Finally, there was a lot of talk about privacy and ethics, but despite an excellent panel line-up and a sterling attempt by Mike Cooke to structure it well, the debate about this is grinding its wheels in the mud. Claims and counterclaims have become all too familiar, and the industry doesn’t seem a lot closer to a consensus, let alone a solution.

Tom Ewing is digital culture officer at BrainJuicer

1 Comment

13 years ago

Great summary Tom, of a great conference. I think your final point is perhaps the most insightful: the online qual piece really fell at the first hurdle, and even the planned workshop on online qual on the Tuesday had to be cut due to lack of interest, for example. And the privacy debate was perhaps most noticeable by its relative lack of presence. The discussion on the Thursday, as you say, didn't seem to make much headway - although the different points of view were very interesting to those of us who haven't really been keeping abreast of it. And it seemed notable that on the Friday there was nary a mention of privacy at all, particularly in the discussions about Facebook and its value to researchers; and (obviously IMHO) that really did seem to stick out like a sore thumb.

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