Saturday, August 18, 2007

The value in dispatches from the field

An article in United Airline’s Hemispheres magazine was extolling the virtues of ethnography in part because it requires presence of the researcher in the context of people being researched.

That’s not a bad point. Much of the difficulty in getting value out of focus groups lies precisely in them being a staged environment in which participants are removed from their natural habitats. A talented moderator can overcome this, as noted in The Lost Art Of Conversation.

There’s still tremendous value in non-ethnographic methods - those in which data and information are received away from the field, much as in dispatches are received at HQ from the battlefield and used to plan and execute albeit a very different kind of strategy.

Both with business and military intelligence-gathering undertakings, these methods are valuable as long as they are conducted the correct way and most importantly, interpreted as part of a greater holistic picture.

The fascination for any person like me who studies human nature and behavior comes from exactly this challenge: of collecting a variety of disparate pieces of behavior and attitudes, knowing which to keep and which to put aside and from these fragments building an understanding that shines with the authenticity of knowing deeply a situation or circumstance that is not one’s own.

One such fragment I came across today is intriguing. It’s a list of the so called ‘stickiest’ websites: those people spend most time at:

What does it mean? Well, it’s not really possible to interpret the significance of this single data set without greater context. Why?

* Site stickiness is connected to a particular type of hard core enthusiast ( reflected in the size of the segments) it’s not representative of large scale behavior

* It’s a single point in time, rather than a trend

With these cautions in mind, is it alarming that almost half the sites are for gambling. The amount of time people are spending on-line at these sites also supports the idea that gambling is addictive. The list of stickiest sites by parent company provides a different picture, one which suggests that other kinds of activities are frequently accessed by a much larger group of people:

It would be helpful is the data separated home from work. Microsoft’s domination is probably skewed by the latter. Still, the table presents some insight into the categories of behavior that people are connecting most with on-line

Cell phones (AT&T, Verizon)

News/entertainment/media (Time warner, Newcorp, New York Times, CNET, Viacom, EW Scripps)

Music (Apple, Realnetworks)

Basic staples (Walmart, Target)

The level of reporting makes it impossible to glean more however, such as email and search engine related activity.

Thank goodness we don’t see gambling dominate this table.

1 comment:

Travel Betty said...

Good thing my visits to all those Latvian Corn Sculpture websites haven't been able to skew the results.