Nice Storefront, but What’s Behind the Counter?

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A colleague recently pointed me to, a market research aggregator that promotes its free, short industry profiles as well as access to off-the-shelf market research reports and customized research. What I initially found interesting was that it had a real Web 2.0 feel. The free industry reports are in the MarketWikis area of the website, and they are, in fact, in a wiki format, complete with discussion and edit tabs. If you see an industry profile that you want to contribute to, you are encouraged to register to gain edit features; it’s free and requires no personal information. (Hint: the “no personal information” part will figure later in this story.)

Most articles include sections on market structure, industry definitions, market metrics, industry players, and trends and recent developments. Somewhat disconcertingly, charts and graphs do not list sources or dates. Contributors are encouraged to list their sources, but these tend to be far too sketchy for an info pro to rely on. An article on green energy, for example, merely lists as sources “Energy Efficient Home Articles, UK Invest, and Warc.” On the other hand, some articles mention key industry and trade associations as sources; MarketWikis may be a way to get pointers to the next place to look for information.

Here is where things get a bit squirrelly, though. Contributors are not identified beyond their login name, and a review of the history logs reveals that a single user, “John,” has created all the articles in MarketWikis. A conversation with John Ryan, one of the two principals of ResearchBuy, confirmed that “John” is simply the administrative username they used to upload the articles and that the articles were written by “numerous authors.” The idea is to seed the wiki with a wide variety of articles and then encourage researchers to contribute their own content as well. Without any indication of who these contributors are, however, and no mechanism for researchers to be clearly acknowledged within the article, I am leery of the accuracy or reliability of the material.

The site also has news blogs on its various categories of market research; unfortunately, the items don’t have clear dates on them, and there is no indication of the source of the news or who posted it.

There appears to be more to ResearchBuy than its wikis and blogs. It also sells high-end market research reports from Datamonitor, Ovum, and Aroq Ltd. as well as what appear to be a large number of reports from “ResearchBuild Industry Studies.” I got suspicious when I noticed that they all had the same generic description. And then I realized that the majority of the reports in ResearchBuy were only shells: They were canned descriptions of reports that ResearchBuy could produce, if you were willing to order them, but there was no currently written content.

Ryan told me that their focus is on providing low-cost (under $1,000) market research; the ResearchBuild place-holders are apparently there to help users identify what they want so that they can order customized research from ResearchBuy. I had to smile at the order form on the front page of ResearchBuy, which lets people order even more specialized research. Their “shopping list” is a good list of what any info pro should be asking when discussing a research project with a client or patron. In addition to a free-text field in which the requester describes the information needed, there are pull-down menus for the type of research needed (competitive intelligence, public opinion), research method (interviews, surveys, focus groups), deadline, and budget (the ranges offered by ResearchBuy begin at $1,500 and go to “more than $50,000”).

My experience looking through ResearchBuy to determine how rich the underlying content was let me appreciate what we info pros take for granted—our almost unconscious need to evaluate information sources. We head straight over to the indexes to get an idea of how broad and deep the content is. We look for tools that let us conduct advanced searches of the content, including filters by publisher and publication date (which aren’t available on ResearchBuy). We look for tools to evaluate the reliability of news items and wiki postings, and we find it disconcerting to see a market research site allow entirely anonymous postings.

ResearchBuy may, over time, turn into a useful resource. But it is also a good reminder to look under the front page before trusting free research.