I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Blogs as focus groups

This month's Business 2.0 has a small article about Umbria Communications, which has developed software to troll blogs for product opinions. Interesting concept, and they seem to be making some good money doing it.

But, I am also not so quick to trash focus groups, or to consider blogs an equal replacement for them. While my background means I obviously have a great affinity for observational methods of user research, I try to approach projects keeping my entire toolkit in mind: that may be ethnography, interviews, tag-alongs, and yes even focus groups and surveys.

The thing to keep in mind each that each of these tools has a use (just like I tell my husband when he uses the wrong thing in the kitchen--like the time he used the vegetable brush to scour the grease off the vent). Focus groups, while vilified by some anthropologists, can be great if the group interaction will contribute to the desired outcome. They are not, however, a cheap replacement for 10 separate interviews or observations, since the nature of the data will be different. And so, I see the benefit of blogs to get feedback on games and new technologies--knowing that these are the comments of lead users, and often trailblazers. Though perhaps the bloggers should get some compensation? At least at a focus group you get $100 and some munchies.

1 comment:

Matt Galloway said...


You make a good point. I have been following the blog analytic space pretty closely lately and I don't think that anyone whose is serious about blog analytics thinks they will completely replace focus groups or other traditional research methods (surveys and such). But I do think these techinques are an important addition to the MR landscape. As an anthropologist, I sure you recognize the value of watching conversation without yourself being observed.

That said, I took issue with the particular article you cited and I have been quite skeptical and critical of Umbria's claims in the media and market place.

My discussion can be found here.

Thanks for the new perspective.