At the world congress in Athens, ESOMAR and Ray Poynter launched their first ever Handbook of the type of the research that hardly existed a decade ago, but is what everyone talks about now. It is a fantastic book that answers just about every question you could possibly have regarding any type of internet-based research. Still it raises a couple of quite different questions in my head, the most important one being: Will anyone ever read the entire book?
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It should come as no surprise that it is Ray Poynter who got around to writing the first "Handbook of Online and Social Media Research". During the transition from traditional to new MR that has happened at a furious pace in the past one or two decades, depending on how and what you count, he has always been at the forefront of the action, analysing and reporting on fields of research not many of us had heard about before. Ray was the one introducing the concept Web 2.0 to the research world at the ESOMAR congress in London 2006 (if not earlier) and is now actually advocating the broader concept NewMR.
No wonder then that everything is covered in great detail and in a very reader-friendly way. As if Rays own knowledge wouldn't have been enough, he has practiced what he teaches and put out each chapter, as it has been finished, on the internet for peers to review and critize them. Needless to say, the journey continues after publication with new updates on the book's web site.
ESOMAR President Gunilla Broadbent and writer Ray Poynter at the official book launch in Athens, September 13, 2010.
All well one would suppose, but there is something that is too good to be true about this whole project. Ray puts us on track already in the introduction when he points out that:
"Because the medium being examined is the internet and because a large part of the book concentrates on leading edge topics, such as online research communities, blog mining, and e-ethnography, this book is a snapshot of a rapidly changing process."
Ray goes on to recommend the reader to stay updated via key blogs, conferences and the books own website. There is one subject too delicate to handle explicitely though: why publish a printed paper book on a subject like this? It seems illogical that someone who unterstands the internet better than most people, should disregard the mediums principles altogether.
Ray busy signing books at the launch.
When Ray lists the target group of the book, he is careful not to talk about who should read it, but who should buy the book as well as "Who is this book for?". Not that it should be too hard to get through the interesting 400 pages, written in a light and enjoyable language, but will anyone actually do it? Those who already work in any of the fields covered, will already be busy exploring new opportunities and directions in the real world. Those who are not, will probably go for specific parts of the book, leaving most of the book untouched. For the most part, I believe the book will remain in the bookshelf.
Maybe I am on to some kind of answer here? The book looks very nice and impressive in a bookshelf and I am quite certain companies will want clients, partners and employees to notice that they are up-to-date enough to own this book. From the other side of the coin, ESOMAR would surely want to be part of this prestige position. Have you ever seen a web site fulfil this kind of ambition? "Look at our display of websites our staff is currently reading!" No, I shouldn't think so. It takes a book for companies to spend money and it takes a book for ESOMAR to want to get involved and promote the project.
- Now you either buy this book, or...
Another reason is of course the down-to-earth problem of getting bread on the table that we all face. Ray Poynter left a good position at Virtual Surveys to spend a year writing this book. Of course he knows the difficulties in making money from stuff you put out on the internet, no matter if you give them away or not. Yes, there are success stories of people who have become rich on giving away information, but those are the exceptions. With a book, Ray reaches a much wider, paying audience, something he very much deserves.
Having cleared this issue, we can only whole-heartedly recommend you to buy this book. Even if parts will be useless three months from now and even if you will only read ten per cent of it, this is a milestone and monument for a very important part of the development of our trade. Maybe it should even be best seen as a history book, covering a very interesting part in time, which most of us lived throught, but perhaps never realised the significance of. Ray sums it all up fantastically well and makes you realise what actually happened to the MR world we once knew.
Most people cared more about their drinks and the nice Greece evening than about the book launch. To their defence: it was almost impossible to hear that anything was happening at the far end of the terrace.
Perhaps most important of all: Ray efficiently and undramatically kills the myth that market research today is based on any kind of scientific foundation. Maybe it was once, but the last decade of so called progress has turned our profession into something completely different. What the industry is doing today is probably of much greater value to our clients, but we can forget about what we learned in our statistics classes at university. I wonder if ESOMAR read and understood that part of the book and if they are ready to accept this conclusion.