Research on research

PC Pro logo Posted: 1st June 2001 | Filed under: Press Articles
Author: Paul Ockenden
First Appeared in PC Pro 2001

For those who spend their days, and often evenings, working on heavyweight Web projects, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of becoming, well, an expert, especially if you work as part of a large team or visit on-line Web developer communities. Regular contact with your peers helps reinforce this expert status - you bounce ideas around, share views and what you've learned, and hence build up a valuable knowledge base.

Such knowledge is undoubtedly useful. But if you recognise yourself as one of these experts, consider this: while you might know all there is to know about Flash, DHTML or JavaServer Pages, there'll almost certainly be a large gap in your knowledge; namely, the likes and habits of the average Web user.

Sure, you know what kind of sites designers like, and which navigation styles are favoured by programmers. You also know about SSL and when it's safe to type in a credit card number. But spare a thought for the millions of ordinary surfers out there.

Common touch

For anyone in the business of specifying, designing or programming Web sites, it's vitally important to keep the common touch. Some Web agencies retain panels of 'average' users especially for concept and site testing - Paul's CST Group does just that - but even this ploy has limitations. The panel tests generally focus on one particular idea or site concept and don't give you a flavour of overall Web habits and likes. The solution, of course, is to turn to a research organisation.

There are lots of organisations that churn out Web statistics, which range from free to very expensive. Or rather they do in the US: here in the UK they tend to range from very expensive to extortionately expensive, and well out of the reach of most small- to medium-sized Web enterprises.

The other day, however, a couple of reports from Continental Research ( landed on Paul's desk. At first glance they looked like any other expensive research report - well researched, lots of useful info, but something wasn't right. Ah, the price: '£250 annual subscription, includes four quarterly updates'. We phoned Continental Research to see whether there was a zero or two missing from that price tag, but apparently not. The company's reports really do cost less than most of the software you'll use to build your sites, and in our view they're far more valuable.