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APRIL 12, 2012

New Developments in Online Qualitative Research

Ramius Corporation, a Gatineau-based online-community system developer, recently launched its latest product, Recollective, an "online community designed in collaboration with researchers to enable industry-leading qualitative research capabilities". According to Ramius, potential uses include:

Like more traditional qualitative market research techniques, Recollective has the potential to include activities, discussions and messaging using a personal computer, tablet or smart phone. The system is also underscoring its online journaling capability and its high level of customizability as some of its assets.

The main characteristic of Recollective is its "online community" approach, where participants can interact in a "Facebook-like" context and view each others' responses, comment on others' input and rate comments. This format is said to stimulate community insight, similarly to in-person focus groups where the value of the interaction generated is greater than the sum of the individual opinions.

Two other advantages that are identified for Recollective are the ability to code answers and inputs while the project is ongoing, and the compatibility of the system for desktop browsers, iPads, iPhones and Android devices. This allows behaviours/activities to be tracked first hand, instead of solely when the participants are seated before a personal computer.

Recollective differs from the typical online qualitative research offer because it capitalizes on the online community aspect of Web 2.0 in a participatory manner. Unlike Voxco's Acuity4, one of the main online qualitative research tools used in market research, the Recollective client plays an active role in the research, instead of solely listening in on the social media and attempting to make sense of the discussion. "Acuity4 listens in on and analyses the content from social media, blogs, micro-blogs, forums, news feeds, review boards, articles, etc." Voxco's edge lies in its "natural language processing approach", which works to identify meaning and present results in context.

Both Recollective and Acuity4 are in line with the trends for 2012 identified by the Green Book Research Industry Trends Report (GRIT). This report, based on a survey of industry professionals conducted in December 2011, mentions that "about two-thirds of companies expect to be using online communities and Social Media Analytics in 2012". In parallel, about one-third of companies currently use online community research in their work. However, when comparing 2010 and 2011 data, it appears that approximately 20% of the intended use of online communities as a research tool did not translate into actual use in the following year, both on the buyer and on the supplier side.

Online communities (like Recollective) and social media analytics (like Acuity4) are the two strongest new emerging qualitative research techniques of 2012, according to GRIT. Nevertheless, the question remains whether they will cohabitate in the research environment with more traditional techniques (such as in-person focus groups), or if they will gain ground over them. In other words, is the rise of new web-based qualitative tools necessarily equated with the decline of "traditional" focus groups? After all, GRIT also reports that in-person focus groups were still used by 77% of research providers (suppliers) and 82% of research buyers (clients) in 2011.

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