A colleague of mine likes to say that real difference between the new MR and the old MR is that the new MR is a lot better at marketing. I thought of that when I saw this item from Research-Live describing the latest marketing push from Communispace. Now I have nothing against these folks or the MROCs they sell. By all reports they are very good at what they do and communities have clearly demonstrated their value as a research method. But I don't think that we serve the broader interests of the research industry by trashing other methodologies as a way to advance a particular business model. Now to complement other zingers like "engagement trumps sample size" we have "trading purity for pragmatism" and "decoupling 'quality' from purity."
To be fair, their marketing piece on this topic claims to support "an integrative model" of quant and communities. But the characterizations of the former throughout have that do-you-still-beat-your-wife kind of quality to them. The adjectives tell the story. Quant is artificial, backward looking, distant, controlling, authoritarian, generic, dry, top-down, alienating, artificial, and something called "researcher-centric." Communities, on the other hand, are relevant, authentic, engaging, purposeful, forward-looking, natural, agile, pragmatic, and "humanistic, person-centered." And then there are the callout quotes from clients saying basically that their communities are all they need.
There's also a matter of facts. "There is plenty of evidence showing that, except for a few discrete segments, the Internet population in the U.S. is quickly becoming the general population. . . Online versus offline is quickly becoming a non-issue." Really? I've blogged on this before. Internet penetration in the US has pretty much stalled over the last five years with a quarter to a third of the population still offline. According to the latest data from Pew, only about a third of adult US Internet users have joined a social network site, a likely indicator of willingness to participate in an MROC. The last time I looked, which admittedly was over a year ago, barely half of the countries in the EU were above the 50-60 percent threshold that ESOMAR describes as the tipping point for acceptance of online research. And with the exception of Brazil (36 percent penetration), the BRICs are still struggling to get north of 30 percent. It's one thing for clients to say that they don't care about these people because they don't have any money to spend but that's a different argument.
In the end, this is just a recycling of the ongoing debate about quant versus qual which shouldn't be a debate at all. We need them both along with whatever other information we can turn up to help a client with a business decision. I am reminded of something Ray Poynter said in his master class on communities at last year's ESOMAR Congress in Montreux: "If you test a new concept with your community and they hate it, then forget about it. If they like it, then go out and do more research."