It was great to be at CASRO’s annual Technology conference again. They have changed the format since I was last there in 2005 and instead of a roster of invited speakers, they now follow the call-for-presentations model, which has upped the standard considerably as the organising committee has been able to pick from the best. The CASRO Tech presentations have always tended to be pretty grounded, focusing on methodology as well as technology, and with speakers unafraid of saying what does not work along with what does. You are often hearing from people who are speaking from a well of practical experience, which I find a tonic from the customary highly choreographed statements of the obvious that seem to dominate the showpiece research conferences.
One of the highlights for me this year was Alex Gofman’s hilarious but rigorously informative talk about the future of the web beyond Web 2.0, into Web 3.0, 4,0 and beyond. Web 3.0 is talked of as the “semantic web” where text, image, audio and video start to converge, revealing the meaning and significance of their content, making it easier to discover and utilise the whole range of data on the internet, overcoming the current limitations of search engines and incomplete arbitrarily applied taxonomies. Web 4.0, by contrast, will be the ‘connected web’ where everything from our laptop to our car, our fridge and our domestic central heating system joins in with the same global network.
An important point Alex made, using the wonderful image of a field of poppies which attracted his eye when travelling through France last summer, was that each of these waves of the internet (2.0, 3.0, and so on) does not replace the previous wave in the way people often imagine. It is not like one copy of Office or Windows superseding the other, upon installation. Web 2.0 technologies stand on the shoulders of what we now consider Web 1.0 technologies, and these so-called 1.0 approaches are still essential and enduring in the Web 2.0 world we find ourselves in now. He even traced through several recognisably Web 2.0 services which, rather inconveniently, did not appear in the last two to three years, but have been prevalent for over ten years.
The poppies? Although the field appeared like a field of poppies, it was in fact a field of wheat. The wheat was grown for the grain to be harvested; the poppies were simply floating on top. And when the farmer came to harvest the wheat, the poppy seeds would be so negligible in volume that they would be unnoticeable among the resulting grain, just as Web 2.0 can be considered to float above 1.0, yet it is these 1.0 technologies that will be providing the harvest for some time to come.
Another highlight was Peter Milla’s overview of initiatives in quality standards, privacy and data protection, with a focus on advances in technology, methodology and how these align with best practice in the area. It was a talk in which Peter contrasted the relaxed and permissive approach prevalent in the United States with the sophistication and even maturity of self-regulatory initiatives from Europe, Australia and closer to home, in Canada. Of particular interest was his back-to-basics approach looking at Total Survey Error (or TSE) as a more balanced approach to assessing research quality, against the somewhat hysterical reactions there has been by the industry of late to concerns over sample quality from respondent fraud.
Pat Molloy and I actually kicked off the proceedings with a summary of the more interesting results from now five years of the Confirmit MR Software Survey, which meaning has been conducting annually since 2004, with some speculation as to how things might be different now the world is aware it is in a global downturn, as opposed to September last year, when it now turns out it was but was not fully aware of the extent of it.
But such is America that ours, and other’s references to the recession were soon countered by speakers and questioners from the floor during both days of the event taking an altogether more bullish view of global downturn – one that in Britain is rarely voiced – that if you want to make a shedload of money, then this is the time to do it. While others are weak, the opportunity for growth and success is there, and numerous examples were provided of ventures that had prospered in the time of recession in the past. It was certainly apparent in the number of attendees, which, at over 160 delegates, was actually up on last year. The exhibition room was pretty much full, and the various hospitality events all had sponsors. The body of the conference was clearly doing more than just talking about it. While it was raining at home, it really did feel as if the sun was eternally shining here.