An early spring update on Quirkos for 2016

spring snowdrops

 

About this time last year, I posted an update on Quirkos development for the next year. Even though February continues to be cold and largely snow-drop free in Scotland, why not make it a tradition?!

 

It’s really amazing how much Quirkos has grown over the last 18 months since our first release. We now have hundreds of users in more than 50 universities across the world. The best part of this is that we now get much more feedback and suggestions from qualitative researchers who are using Quirkos for different projects. Although we have always had a ‘road-map’ for developing new features for Quirkos, it’s been an aim to keep that flexible so we adapt to people’s needs.

 

We are planning a new update for Quirkos (free of course) for the end of March 2016. This version (1.4) will be a fairly major upgrade, but as ever will be released at the same time for Windows, Mac and Linux, with identical features and compatibility across all three.

 

The most significant improvement will be speed. Although v1.3 did improve this a little, it was not enough. The underlying ‘engine’ for coding and highlights was laggy and slow with large projects, and required complete rewriting from scratch. It has justifiably been the biggest source of criticism so far about Quirkos, but we hope this will now remove the last thing holding many users back. This has taken months, which is why this release is a little later than our typical quarterly updates. However, the difference so far is amazing: a near 10 fold increase in speed when loading, coding and editing sources. Although the interface will still look the same, everyone will notice the under-the-hood difference in small and large projects alike.

 

There will also be a few minor bug fixes in this release. We had reports that when moving encrypted projects between Windows and Mac, passwords were not accepted. We’ve fixed this issue, and a few others that people have reported. There are also several small improvements suggested by users that should make exploring the data easier. So please always e-mail us with bugs or suggestions, everything reported gets investigated, and we try and fix issues as soon as we can!

 

We will be sending the new version out to an international group of beta-testers at the end of February, so we are confident that everything works as intended before we make it publicly available. The best way to keep abreast of updates is to follow our Twitter feed: twitter.com/quirkossoftware which is usually updated every day.

 

Looking forward, the next release (v1.5) is due for the summer, and will add some exciting new features, probably including the second most frequently requested addition: memos! Proper note taking functionality is top of many people’s request lists, and will make it much easier to record researcher’s ponderings during the analysis process. For the meantime, check out our blog post article on how to record and code your notes in Quirkos. We also hope to add a lot more tools to help look at word-frequency in their qualitative data sets, including the ever popular word clouds!

 

In addition to all this, we will have a major new collaboration to announce in the next few months. This is going to represent a major leap forward in functionality for Quirkos, bringing some top minds into the fray to work on the next generation of qualitative analysis software.

 

So far, we have reinvested all our sales income into development, to make sure that we keep making the software better, and keep current and future users happy. Since all our updates are free, the best way to support further development is to buy a licence, and you will always benefit from work we do in the future to add new capabilities, and be able to suggest the features that will make your qualitative research easier and more fun.

 

 

Delivering qualitative market insights with Quirkos

delivering fashion

 

To build a well-designed, well-thought-out, and ultimately useful product, today’s technology companies must gain a deep understanding of the working mentality of people who will use that product. For Melody Truckload, a Los Angeles tech company focused on app-based freight logistics, this means intense market research and a focus on training sales agents as researchers.

 

Kody Kinzie, director of Melody’s special research and operations team, Cythlin Intelligence, was faced with introducing qualitative social research and analysis to people who had never considered themselves researchers before.

 

“Quirkos was the first truly accessible qualitative program I found,” Kinzie said.

 

Quirkos was designed with the philosophy that anyone can become a qualitative researcher. The goal is to allow companies and agencies to adopt unique ways to understand their staff and the wider marketplace. By making qualitative data visual and easy to code, users can see their results emerge and gain quick overviews of complex issues.

 

Companies like Melody are at the forefront of developing the next generation of qualitative insight, and Quirkos is helping to open the door to innovative new methods of business intelligence.

 

Kinzie started training his team members to use Quirkos but said he soon discovered that the simple coding allowed even a novice to develop complex data structures with notable uniqueness. Often, he found that these code structures were well suited to analyzing particular elements the researchers were interested in, and he began documenting the experiment to evaluate the resulting structures.

 

Here’s how Kinzie and his team use Quirkos:
One team member will send a Quirkos database to another team member — a researcher who examines the code structure and walks the requesting team member through an explanation of the thought process that went into creating the code. The data structure’s strengths and weaknesses are then assessed and distilled into a report. The researcher examines Melody’s code construction to discover what kind of information it is most effective at analyzing or categorizing, as well as whether the code tags and organizes information or clusters information into meaningful relationships.

 

This helps researchers understand what kind of questions these information structures should be applied to, and where a particular researcher’s methods might excel. The ability to use Quirkos to build and analyze unique and flexible databases from these structures has given Melody an edge in developing and sharing insights throughout the team.

 

While Melody Truckload’s app currently wraps up beta testing with commercial partners, the Quirkos approach has been put to the test most recently on the Melody team’s latest project, Melody Fashion.

 

“In the complex world of L.A.’s Fashion District, which is the part of town that houses the city’s fashion industry wholesale market, freight consolidation desperately needs to be modernized,” Kinzie said. “The objective of Melody Fashion is to provide a platform for fulfilment and consolidation that takes into account a detailed understanding of a market with many players.”

 

To that end, sales agents were trained to analyze interactions using grounded theory on Quirkos and to aggregate data garnered in their interactions with customers. It led to valuable insights, including a partnership with local shipping experts to bring Melody Fashion’s technology to the district.

 

Melody operations manager Marcus Galamay, who introduced new agents to Quirkos software and guided them through their first qualitative exercises, said, “Quirkos provides an intuitive introduction to qualitative analysis for our sales agents, augmenting their role in a way that’s expanded our insights into our client base. It’s a niche that many might not think to pursue, but it’s already delivered results in terms of better understanding of the data we generate and refining our market strategy based on that.”

 

Thanks to its ease of use and its powerful ability to assist in important social research, Quirkos was instrumental in providing Melody with the insight necessary to build smart and useful technology for a distinct and totally new customer base.

 

 

Using properties to describe your qualitative data sources

Properties and values editor in Quirkos

In Quirkos, the qualitative data you bring into the project is grouped as 'sources'. Each source might be something like an interview transcript, a news article, your own notes and memos, or even journal articles. Since it can be any source of text data, you can have a project that includes a large number of different types of source, which can be useful when putting your research together. This means that you can code things like your research questions, articles on theory, or even grey literature, and keep them in the same place as your research data.


The benefit of this approach is that you can quickly cross-reference your own research together with written articles, coding them on the same themes so you can compare them. However, there will be times that you only want to look at data from some of your sources. Perhaps you only want to look at journal articles written between a certain period, or look at respondent's data from just one city. By using the Source Properties in Quirkos, you can do all this and more: it allows you an essentially unlimited number of ways to describe the data. You can then use the query view to see results that match one or more properties, and even do comparisons. This Properties-Query combo is the best way to examine your coded qualitative data for trends and differences.

 

This article will outline a few different ways that you can use the source properties, and how to get the most use out of your research data and other sources.


When you bring a data source into Quirkos, the computer doesn't know anything about it. It's good practice to describe it, using what is sometimes called 'metadata' or 'data about data'. So for example, respondent data might have values for Age, Gender, Location, Occupation, Purchasing Habits... the list is endless. Research papers and textbooks will have values like Journal Name, Pulbication Year, Volume, Author, Page number etc.

 

Each of these categories in Quirkos are called 'Properties' and the possible data belonging to each property are called 'Values'. So for example, the Age of a respondent is a Property, and the value could be 42. Quirkos lets you have a practically unlimited number of Properties that describe all the sources in a project, and an unlimited number of Values.


The values can also be numerical (like age in years), discrete (like categories for Old, Young or 20-29) or even comments (like 'This person was uncomfortable revealing their age'). Properties can even have a mix of different data types as values.


To create properties and values in your project, click on the small 'grid' button on the top right corner of the screen. This toggles the properties view, and will show you the properties and values for the data source you are currently viewing. To look at a different source, just select it from the tabs at the bottom, or the complete list of sources in the source browser button (bottom left of the source column).


One here, you can create a new property and value with the (+) button at the bottom of the column, or use the 'Properties and Values Editor' to add lots of data at once, or to remove or edit existing values. The Editor also gives you the option of rearranging Properties and Values, and changing a Property to be 'multiple-choice' will let you assign more than one Value to each Property (for example to show that a person has multiple hobbies).


There are also a couple of features that help speed up data entry, for example the Properties Editor also allows you to create Properties that have pre-existing common values, for example 'Yes/No' properties, or common Likert Agree-Disagree scales. To define values for a property, use the orange drop-down arrow next to each Property. When you click on this, you can see all the values that have already been defined, as well as the option to add a new value directly.


I always try and encourage people to also use the properties creatively. You can use them to quickly create groups of your sources, and explore them together. So you may create a property for 'Unusual case', select Yes for those sources, and see what makes them special. There might even be something you didn't collect survey data for, but  is a clear category in the text, such as how someone voted. You can make this a Property too, and easily see who these people are and what they said. They can also be process-based properties: 'Ones I haven't coded Yet' or 'Ones I need to go over again'. Use the properties as a flexible way to manage and sort your data, in anyway you see fit! You can of course create and remove properties and values at any stage of your project, and don't forget to describe the 'type' of source: article, transcript, notes etc.


When you want to explore the data by property, use the Query view. This lets you set up very simple filters that will show you results of coded data that comes from particular sources. You can even run two queries at once, and see the results side-by-side to compare them. While by default the [ = ] option will return sources that match the value, you can also use 'Not equal' [!=] and ranges for numerical or alphabetic values ( < > etc). It's also possible to add many queries together with a simple interface, to create complex filters. So for example you can return results from just people between the ages of 30-35, who are Male, and live in France OR Germany.

 


This was a quick summary of how to describe your qualitative data in Quirkos: as always you can find more information in the video guides, and ask us a question in the forum.

 

 

How to organise notes and memos in Quirkos

EraserGirl post-it-notes

 

Many people have asked how they can integrate notes or memos into their project in Quirkos. At the moment, there isn’t a dedicated memo feature in the current version of Quirkos (v1.0), but this is planned for a free upgrade later in the year.


However, there are actually two ways in which users can integrate notes and memos into their project already using methods that give a great deal of flexibility.


The first, and most obvious ‘workaround’ is to create a separate source for notes and memos. First, create a blank source by pressing the (+) button on the bottom right of the screen, and select ‘New Source’. In the source properties view (Top right) you can change the name of this to ‘Memos’ or ‘Thoughts’ or something appropriate. You can then edit this source by long-clicking or right clicking in the source and selecting ‘Edit Source Text’. Now you have a dialogue box into which you can keep track of all your thoughts or memos during the coding process, and keep coming back to add more.


The advantage to having your memo as a source is that you can code with it in exactly the same way you would with any of your other sources. So you can write a note ‘I’m not sure about grouping Fear and Anxiety as separate codes’ and actually drag and drop that text onto the Anxiety and Fear bubbles – assigning that section of your note as being about those categories. When running queries or reports, you can easily see your comments together with the coding for that source, or just look at all your notes together.


This approach is most useful if you want to record your thoughts on the coding process or on developing your analysis framework. You can also have a series of note sources – for example if you had several people coding on a project. Don’t forget that you can export a source as a Word file with all the annotations, should you want to print or share just your notes on a project. One further tip is to create a Yes/No source property called ‘Memo’ or ‘Note’ so you can record which source(s) contain memos. Then when running queries or reports you can quickly choose whether to include coded memos or not.


However, if you want to record specific notes about each source, the second method is to actually create a source property for comments and notes. So for example, you might want to record some details of the interview that might have contextual importance. You can create a source property for ‘Interview conditions’ and note things like ‘Noisy room’ and ‘Respondent scared by Dictaphone’. By changing this property to be multiple choice, you can record several notes here, which of course can be used again across all the sources. This would let you quickly mark which interviewees were nervous about being recorded, and even see if responses from these people differed in a query comparison view.


However, you can also have a source category for more general notes, and add as many values to this property as you like. At the moment you can have very long values for source properties, but more than the first few words will not be shown. We are going to change this in an update in the next few weeks that will allow you to view much longer notes stored as property values.


These two different approaches should allow you plenty of ways to record notes, memos and musings as you go through and analyse your project. They also give you a lot of ways to sort and explore those notes – useful once you get to the stage of having lots of them! In future releases we will add a specific memo feature which will allow you to also have the option to add a note to a specific coding event, and will be implemented in unique but intuitive way. Watch this space!

Quirkos Beta Update!

We are busy at Quirkos HQ putting the finishing touches on the Beta version of Quirkos.

The Alpha was relased 5 months ago, and during that time we've collected feedback from people who've used Quirkos in a variety of settings to do all kinds of different research. We've also been adding a lot of features that were requested, and quite a few bonus ones too! We've made search much more powerful, created new graphical reports, and given people tools to get writing reports and articles quickly.

There has been a lot of interest in the next version, and we are excited to share it with people. But we also want to make sure that when it goes out we give the best possible impression of what Quirkos will be like to use. We are planning to make the Beta available to people who have signed up at the end of June, so we can collect more feedback and be ready for a September launch. We'll be detailing some of the new features on the blog over the next few months, so watch this space!

Evaluating feedback

We all know the score: you attend a conference, business event, or training workshop, and at the end of the day you get a little form asking you to evaluate your experience. You can rate the speakers, venue, lunch and parking on a scale from one-to-five, and tick to say whether you would recommend the event to a friend or colleague.

But what about the other part of the evaluation: the open comments box? What was your favourite part of the day? What could we improve for next time? Any other comments? Hopefully someone is going to spend time typing up all these comments, and see if there are some common themes or good suggestions they can use to improve the event next year. Even if you are using a nifty on-line survey system like SurveyMonkey, does someone read and act on the suggestions you spent all that time writing?

And what about feedback on a product, or on service in a hotel or restaurant? Does something actually happen to all those comments, or as one conference attendee once suggested to me, do they all end up on the floor?

In fact, this is a common problem in research. Even when written up, reports often just stay on the shelf, and don't have influence on practice or procedure. If you want decision makers to pay attention to participant feedback and evaluations, then you need to present them in a clear and engaging way.

 

For the numerical or discrete part of surveys, this is not usually too hard. You can put these values in Excel, (or SPSS if you are statistically minded) and explore the data in pivot tables and bar graphs. Then you can see that the happiest attendees were the ones who ranked lunch as excellent, or that 76% of people would recommend the day to others.

Simple statistics and visualisations like this are a standard part of our language: we hear and see them in the news, at board meetings, even in football league tables. They communicate clearly and quickly.

But what about those written comments? In Excel you can't really see all the comments made by people who ranked the conference poorly, or see if the same suggestions are being made about workshop themes for next year.

That's what Quirkos aims to do: become the 'Excel of text'. It's software that everyone can use to explore, summarise and present text data in an intuitive way.

If you put all of your conference evaluations or customer feedback in Quirkos, you can quickly see all the comments made by people who didn't like your product. Or everything that women from the ages of 24-35 said about your service compared with men from 45-64. By combining the numerical, discrete and text data, you have the power to explore the relationships between themes and the differences between respondees. Then you can share these findings as graphs, bubble maps or just the quotes themselves: quick and easy to understand.

This unlocks the power of comments from all your customers, because Quirkos allows you to see why they liked a particular product. And it gives you the chance to be a better listener: if your consumers have an idea for improving your product, you can make it pop out as clear as day.

Hopefully it also breaks a vicious circle: people don't bother leaving comments as they assume they are aren't being read, and thus organisers stop asking for comments, because those sections are ignored or give generic responses.

 

So hopefully next time you fill out a customer feedback form or event evaluation, your comments will lead to direct improvements, rather than just being lost in translation.

Touching Text

Presenting Quirkos at the CAQDAS 2014 conference this month was the first major public demonstration of Quirkos, and what we are trying to do. It’s fair to say it made quite a splash! But getting to this stage has been part of a long process from an idea that came about many years ago.

Like many geeks on the internet, I’d been amazed by the work done by Jeff Han and colleagues at the University of New York on cheap, multi-touch interfaces. This was 2006, and the video went viral in a time before iPhones and tablets, when it looked like someone had finally worked out how to make the futuristic computer interface from Minority Report which had come out in 2002. Others, such as Johnny Lee at Carnegie Mellon University had worked out how the incredible technology in the controllers for the Wii could make touchscreen interactive whiteboards with a £25 toy.

I’ve always been of the opinion that technology is only interesting when it is cheap: it can’t have an impact when it’s out of reach for a majority of people. Now, none of this stuff was particularly ground-breaking in itself, but these people were like heroes to me, for making something amazing out of bits and pieces that everyone could afford.

Meanwhile, I was trying to do qualitative analysis for my PhD [danfreak.net/thesis.html], and having a iBook that wouldn’t run any of the qualitative analysis packages, I cobbled together my own system: my first attempt at making a better qualitative research system. It was based on a series of unique three letter unique codes I’d insert into a sentence, and a Linux based file search system called ‘Beagle’ which allowed me to see a piece of text I’d assigned with a code across any of the files on my computer. Thus in one search I could see all the relevant bits of text from interviews, focus groups, diaries and notes. It was clunky, but worked, and was the beginning of something with potential.

 

By 2009, I had my first proper research job in Oxford, and was spending my salary trying to make a touchscreen computer out of a £120 netbook and a touchscreen overlay I’d imported from China. In fact, I got through two of these laptops, after short-circuiting the motherboard of one while trying to cram the innards into a thin metal case. What excited me was the potential for a £150 touchscreen computer, with no keyboard, that you used like a ‘tablet’ from Star Trek. Then, while I was doing this, Apple came out with the long-anticipated iPad, which had the distinct advantage of being about ¼ of the thickness and weight!

But while all this was going on in my spare time, at work I was spending all day coding semi-structured interviews for a research project. I was being driven mad with the slow coding process, Nvivo was crashing frequently and corrupting all the work when it did, and using interfaces in the 21st century that were beginning to feel a whole generation behind.

And that’s where the idea came from: me speculating on what qualitative analysis would be like with a touch screen interface. What if you could do it on a giant tablet or digital whiteboard with a team of people? I drew sketches of bubbles (I’ve always liked playing with bubbles) that grew when you added text to them, integrating the interface and the visualisation, and showing relationships between the themes.

 

After this, the idea didn’t really progress until I was working on my next job, at Sheffield Hallam University. Again, qualitative analysis was giving me a headache, this time because we wanted to do analysis with participants and co-researchers, and most of the packages were too difficult to learn and too expensive to afford to let the whole team get involved. A new set of colleagues shared my pain with using current CAQDAS software, and as no-one else seemed to be doing anything about it, I thought it was worth giving a try.

I took a course in programming user interfaces using cross-platform frameworks, and was able to knock up some barely functioning prototypes, at the time called ‘Qualia’. But again, things didn’t really progress until I left my job to focus on it full time, fleshing out the details and hiring the wonderful Adrian Lubik: a programmer who actually knows what he’s doing!

With the project gaining momentum, a better name was needed. Looking around classical Greek and Latin names, I came across ‘kirkos’, the Greek word which is the root of the word ‘circle’. Change the beginning to ‘Qu’ for qualitative, and voilá, Quirkos was born: Qualitative Circles. Something that very neatly summed up what I’d been working towards for nearly a decade.

In June we’ll be releasing the beta version to testers for the first time, and the final version will go on sale in September at a lower price point that means a lot more people can try qualitative research. It’s really exciting to be at this stage, with so much enthusiasm and anticipation building in the market. But it’s also just a beginning; we have a 5 year plan to keep adding unique features and develop Quirkos into something that is innovative at every stage of the research process. It’s been a long journey, but it’s great that so many people are now coming along!

Quirkos is coming...

key

 

Quirkos is intended to be a big step forward for qualitative research. The central idea is to make text analysis so easy, that anyone can do it.

That includes people who don't know what qualitative analysis is, or that it could help them to better understand their world. This could be a council or hospital trust wanting to better understand the needs of people that use their services, or a team developing a new product, wanting feedback from users and consumers.

And for experienced researchers too, the goal was to create software that helps people engage with their data, rather than being a barrier to it. Over the last decade I've used a variety of approaches to analysing qualitative research, and many collegues and I felt that there had to be a better way.

Quirkos aims to make software to easily manage large projects, search them quickly, and keep them secure. To visualise data on the fly, so findings come alive and are sharable with a team of people. And finally to make powerful tools to sort and understand the connections in the data.

After years of planning, these pieces are finally coming together, and the prototype is already something that I prefer using to any of the other qualitative software packages out there. In the next few weeks, the first version of Quirkos will be sent to intreped researchers around the globe to test in their work. A few months later, we'll be ready to share a polished version with the world, and we're really excited that it will work for everyone: with any level of experience, and on pretty much any computer too.

There are a lot of big firsts in Quirkos, and it's going to be exciting sharing them here over the next few weeks!