Bing Pulse and data collection for market research

bing pulse example

 

Judging by the buzz and article sharing going on last week, there was a lot of interest and worry about Microsoft launching their own market research platform. Branded as part of ‘Bing’, their offering, called ‘Pulse’ has actually been around for a while, and is still geared around collecting feedback from live events, especially political discussions.


I can see why this move might have a lot of companies worried, it seems to me that the market research arena is crowded with start-ups and established firms offering platforms, or ‘communities’ for collecting participant data. There’s LiveMinds, Aha!, VisionLive, a quick search will bring up dozens of competitors. So an entry into the market from an organisation with deep pockets and brand awareness like Microsoft may well have many looking to see how this develops. However, with my own limited time with Pulse, I don’t think there is much to worry about yet.


First of all, Pulse is currently entirely focused on one niche, feedback on live events. There are no tools to do anything like advert or creatives validation, no proper survey tools or interactive online focus groups. The MO is very much quantitatively focused, with very little option to capture qualitative feedback at this time. Secondly, it seems to have a lot of limitations, and in this beta state, almost no documentation.


I quickly got stuck trying to create a real-time voting question, with a mandatory box for ‘response theme’ that was greyed out, but wouldn’t continue without being completed. The ‘help’ tools just link to a generic Bing help website, which don’t contain any content about Pulse. The layout is a little confusing, getting you stuck in a strange loop between the ‘Live Dashboard’ and ‘Pulse Options’, and it’s also slow: get used to seeing the little flapping loading logo after every action.

 

As for integration, the only option at the moment seems to be the API, which only has four available calls. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get results (especially those not covered by those API calls) out from the platform: I can’t see any CSV export or the like. Also, considering the powerful analytic options available through the Azure platform, it’s disappointing not to see any easy integration there. In short, far from being a quick DIY solution, you will need someone to programme yet another API into your platform to do anything more than look at a few graphs on the Pulse platform.

 

I want to stress that this was hardly a detailed review and test of the capabilities of the platform, my opinions are based just on playing with it for an hour or so. However, it is nice to be able to try it out with just a registration, personally I don’t like products where the demo is locked away and difficult to try out. It’s a competitive market, and I feel more inclined to trust software that the developers aren’t shy of showing off!

 

Now, I understand that most market research providers are not so much worried about the current feature set of Pulse, but what this entry into the field means in the future, especially for a product that Microsoft is content to offer for free at this time. But I would echo some of the comments made in the Greenbook article by Leonard Murphy, that it usually doesn’t make sense for market research firms to do their own their own quantitative data collection. The future, he says, is integrating with data collection tools and adding value in terms of insight, custom development and consultation.


And that is the crux with all these market research platforms: they are primarily data collection tools, with limited analytics. Pulse doesn’t seem to have anything on this front at the moment, but with too many of these solutions, the insight stops with a couple of graphs or statistics. I feel there is still the need to integrate with another tool, or draw from extensive market research analytic experience to make anything from the data once it has been collected. It maybe that most clients don’t expect or require any kind of rigour in the breakdown of project results, especially when it comes to qualitative data. I am still yet to see anything that looks to me like a true end-to-end platform for market research, but am willing to be proved wrong!

 

At the moment, there are some great and flexible tools for collecting customer data online, be it quantitative or qualitative. But these are ubiquitous, and very cheap to run – we host an online survey platform for our customers for free, just as a convenience. Yet getting to answers and insight from that data usually requires an additional analytical step, especially for qualitative research. As I’ve said before,  the most difficult step is understanding the data and how you integrate analytics into your workflow. Increasingly the data collection platform you choose, and how much you pay for it will not be an issue.

 

 

True cross-platform support

Another key aim for Quirkos was to have proper multi-platform support. By that, I mean that it doesn't matter if you are using a desktop or laptop running Windows, a Mac, Linux, or a tablet, Quirkos is the same across them all. You can swap files between different operating systems without needing to convert them, and the interface is the same for everyone. Magic!

This seems like such a simple goal, but Quirkos will be the first qualitative analysis package to acheive this, and it's something that has not been good enough for far too long. It's been a real pain when team members have different computers, and people can't share their data and files.

While it's great that some of the big players are finally releasing Mac versions of their software, these have different interfaces to learn, have less features, and can't talk seamlessly with the Windows versions. Quirkos says: it shouldn't matter. You can pick up an Android tablet right now, and send your Quirkos file to a collegue using a Mac or Windows computer, and explore it using the same interface: an interface that is visual and intuitive, where you don't need to learn any technical query languages, or computer jargon.

Finally, qualitative data analysis shouldn't require the most powerful computer your department can afford, with as much RAM as you can fit in it. The header in the image above shows Quirkos purring away on an old 2008 netbook (!) running XP, and it still searches faster than certain other qualitative analysis software running on my Quad-core, desktop PC with 8GB of RAM.

This is becoming an embarassingly geeky post, but the point is that with Quirkos these stats don't matter anymore. You don't need to worry about what platforms your collegues are using, you can just share with them. And because it works so much faster, it means you can play and with and explore your data in a new way.

Before now, many people I know prefer to do their analysis on paper, and I don't blame them. But finally there is software that just gets out of the way, and puts your data first and formost, regardless of what you have to run it on.