Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

It’s not the first time I’ve postulated that MR firms can be laggards with their technology. An interesting early finding to emerge from the 2010 Globalpark MR Software Survey, a survey among research agencies worldwide carried out annually by meaning, provides some supporting evidence for this by looking at the actual technology being used to access the survey.

We’ve been able to analyse the browser string returned by the 550-some participants who responded to our survey invitations – which were targeted exclusively at MR companies across the globe. The browser string, which many MR survey packages capture automatically, reveals exactly what browser and also what operating system the survey participant used. It’s hard data, free from any response bias, as it is picked up from the routine chattering that goes on in the background between web server and web browser.

We thought it would be interesting to compare this with the current state of worldwide usage to see if MR differs, and if so, how. Overall, the figures are very close with respect to operating systems in use. We compared our figures with those from GlobalStats Stat Counter who measure usage in the same way, only on a somewhat grander scale: typically 15 billion page impressions from 3 million websites per month across the world.

The headline figure for Windows, at 93.3% among our MR participants, against the GlobalStat’s worldwide figure of 92.0% is within a whisker. Perhaps surprisingly too is the 5.9% figure for Mac OS X usage – a squeak away from the global figure of of 6.2%. Most MR software providers produce only Windows versions of their software, and even web-based software, such survey authoring tools or online analysis programs, which could be platform independent, are often locked down to Windows-only browsers.

Chart showing OS usage 2009 to 2010

The trend, which we can see by comparing browser string data from our 2010 survey with the equivalent from our 2009 survey, shows Mac usage has surged from 2% to virtually 6% in the last year. We cannot tell how many of these users were taking the survey at home on their own Macs (which is quite likely) but it’s clear they were responding to a work-oriented email on a platform that most MR software managers choose to ignore. If this is a continuing trend, this minority will be increasingly hard for software developers to dismiss as undeserving of their attention.

We can also see some interesting things happening with the flavours of Windows being used. It is well known that most corporate IT departments gave Windows Vista a miss when it came out in 2007, choosing to stick with the the ageing but more reliable XP. Even now, as XP approaches its tenth birthday, it is to be found on 70% of the PCs in our study that have Windows installed on them (65% overall). Among our 2009 participants, it was found on 74% of the Windows PCs. In the meantime, what little share Vista had accumulated has now mostly been ceded to the newest Windows 7, which launched in October last year, just before our fieldwork period. It has now grabbed nearly a quarter (23% among Windows PCs, 21% overall).

Mobile devices barely made an appearance – less than 1% of our sample. There again, we’d expect most researchers to realise that taking our survey on a handheld device was unlikely to be a joyous experience. The same is not true for iPad users. We tested it on iPad and it looked good: but only two showed up among 554 research professionals who clicked the invitation link.

Chart showing web browser usage in MR firms vs global usage

Browser usage was also remarkably close to the global figures overall. Between last year and this, the major trends are that Internet Explorer has been losing share to both Firefox and Google’s own Chrome browsers – and our MR sample show signs of the same trend. However, when we compared the trend with the global data, our November 2010 sample showed a remarkably close fit with what the rest of the world looked like around March and April this year. Worldwide, Internet Explorer dipped below the 50% mark in August and by November it had eased down further to 48%. Our November 2010 snapshot shows IE as the browser of choice among 54% of research users, down from 62% last year, while Firefox has gained strongly, and even Chrome and Safari have picked up users.

We’ve just started to look at the actual questions in the 2010 MR Software survey – we will have the results out in March 2011.

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