I was somewhat distraught about my career prospects when I read the proclamation on the front of Wired magazine last month: “The Web is Dead.” The articles supporting the title were interesting and by reading them, I realized that things were not as bleak as the cover line seems to be saying they are.
In short, Chris Anderson makes the argument that there has been a proliferation of Internet apps that are not as open as traditional websites, not necessarily browser based, and which cumulatively comprise the vast majority of Internet traffic. In addition, he notes that surfing behavior is increasingly being concentrated in the largest websites and that advertisers and others entrepreneurs are shifting their focus from websites to apps. But given all these issues, Anderson concedes that websites will continue to survive, even if they do not thrive as they have in the past.
In effect, what he is saying is not that the “Web is dead,” but that the Internet has evolved over time resulting in new uses of the data carried by it and an increase in the time that people spend using it. The Web is a component of what people are using the Internet for, but no longer the dominant component. The Internet pie is growing, but it is no longer a simple apple pie — it has morphed into a mixed fruit torte.
Several lessons can be learned from this discussion regarding research. The first is that the industry needs to adapt to changing times. When it comes to understanding and directly measuring behavior, the business I am now in, we need to understand how behavior is evolving over time. In order to stay relevant for our clients and truly meet their needs, our methodologies need to improve continually, not only to cover new activities, but also to better measure the already existing behaviors.
The second lesson is that as a research industry we are evolving in a similar fashion to the Internet. In fact, if the article had been written about market research, the title might have been “Survey Research is Dead,” noting that survey research has its place in the pantheon of market research techniques, but that the industry is evolving in the way it collects, understands and uses data. Innovative qualitative techniques, direct behavioral measurement, and listening to consumers through innovative social media measurement, are just a few of the growing trends in the marketplace. Insights gained from the growing use of these techniques are allowing us to better answer our clients’ questions.
The truly exciting trend in the industry is the intersection of different information streams resulting in a fuller view of the consumer. Survey research has often been utilized in the past in conjunction with qualitative research. But now we are seeing the fusion of survey data with multiple types of behavioral data, secondary data sources, and qualitative research at growing rates.
Discussions about a holistic view of consumers and how we might consider the entirety of their attitudes and behaviors as it relates to the question our clients are asking are becoming commonplace. Bigger questions about the intersection of information streams are starting to be answered. In short, the industry is moving forward with even better things to come. Survey research is not dead, but consumer research is becoming a mixed berry torte — and this can only be good for our clients.