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Celebrating 10 Years Online Insights Communities

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MROC-ing all Over the World…..

Time flies and it’s time to celebrate – Happy Thinking People has been successfully running MR Online Communities (MROCs) with our first@thepool® portal for 10 years! That’s over 400 communities across 40 countries and over 100,000 days spent with different consumers!

A time to celebrate is always a time to reflect – but also to think about the future.

In Germany, H/T/P was one of the first, if not THE first, to set up qualitative online communities – hence the claim to fame and name “first at the pool” – for those of you who didn’t already know :)

In 2017, online communities are mainstream, part and parcel of everyday MR life. When they first burst on the scene, or “back in the day”, things were quite different.

Happy Thinking People’s approach to MROCs in 2007 was a bit adventurous, exploratory, we were looking to discover the potential of this shiny new tech tool, how it could help us do things differently, get to different qual places. At the time there was still a lack of clarity as to what online would add to qualitative research. We had all tried online focus groups with relatively limited levels of excitement and the qual sector was maybe a little fearful of techie claims about the likely revolutionary impact – IT taking over our world?? No way!

From a present perspective, these concerns seem overblown. MROCs have become a robust stand-alone methodology and in addition they play a complementary role in multi-modular studies, sitting alongside social media analytics, ethnographies – a powerful additional weapon in the qual toolkit.

So – how did our own journey with online blogs begin, what phases were there? Here’s a potted history of the road to being first@thepool®.

1. Phase One (2007 – 2009 ) : Big Bang – or Digital Glimpses into People’s Lives

This phase is best described as Big Bang.

Following a few months of test phases with simple words-based communities, the breakthrough of having a sophisticated tech platform with a range of multi-media functionalities had a major impact.

Suddenly we were able to get digital glimpses into consumer lives across the globe in areas that had been difficult to access authentically. Participants across the world could share pictures, videos, all sorts of minutiae about their world; researchers and clients could observe the fieldwork as it unfolded – from the comfort of their own desks.

Ethnographic options began to open up dramatically – as did the output.

One example was for a snack manufacturer who wanted to better understand how their product was consumed at home in the evening. The first@thepool® community we established delivered eye-opening insights into people’s real lives, all the things they were doing while somehow engaged in snacking.

Here’s a boys-night-in where they are practising to be a rock-band….

Yes, this was a snacking study. The inspirational potential is clear: totally different situations that could form the basis of a creative idea, embedded in real lives.

Authenticity was delivered in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible if a researcher had been presented – participants had no concerns about filming themselves and sharing.

2. Phase Two: Globally Playful (2009 – 2013 )

As technology evolved, and the possibilities to play with pictures increased, our tool evolved to become much more interactive and playful, using collages, mappings and yes, quick polls. Exploratory and evaluative. Not qual-quant, but closed ended questions could now be thrown into the mix.


Participants loved it, spent longer with the tool and uploaded more content. Clients watching online became encouraged to think of more and more tasks – building on the responses they had just observed. Iteration – hello!

Global reach also expanded, with language options increasing steadily, from Arabic to Zulu, with our portal able to handle blog entries running from right to left – native speakers from across the globe moderating centrally, making this first@thepool® a truly global-local tool.

3. Phase Three: Mobile Rocks (2014 – the present ) the MROCs

As smartphone screen sizes increased, tablets became more popular, both equipped with ever more pixelated camera and video options, MROCs could march into and capture out-of-home moments: pictures telling a story better than words, as any vlogger will confirm.

Experiential insights needed in more distant locations? Mobile is your friend, across the globe. Interested in finding out about millennials’ eating out habits in Tokyo?

We have conducted many studies of this type, where friends photographed their evenings out, from start to finish (well almost, depending on the sort of ending it had…).

Mobile continues to give good in-the-moment, serving up life as it happens: emotions are captured, not recalled from the hazy morning after.

4. The Future

Crystal ball time – always difficult, but fun ;)

MROCs are mainstream: according to the global GRIT 2016 survey (Q3/4), 59% participants stated they were currently using them.

Tech and cost will likely be the driver of change as of pretty much everything else, it would seem – with interconnected mobile likely to play a central role. MROCs will no doubt follow, as participants’ habits change – hopefully not too slowly to adapt and be mimetic.

DIY options may become more attractive.

Tech and cost may be central change forces – but with the slight sense of “well you would say that wouldn’t you”, we’d suggest that the human aspect of moderation, the participant interaction is what really makes MROCs magic.

Moderators who show and share more of themselves in a community will get to real conversations, beyond the rather mechanical Question and Answer format.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, time to lean back and raise our glasses (and our mobiles) to the world of Online Insight Communities – and propose a toast to many more glorious years of first@thepool®.



Happy Thinking People GmbH
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Tel: +49 89 290040 4000
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Happy Thinking People GmbH
Rosenstr. 17, D-10178 Berlin
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Happy Thinking People AG
Stauffacherstr. 101, CH-8004 Zürich
Tel: +41 44 204 16 26
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Happy Thinking People Pvt. Ltd., 201, Sai Nara Building, 21 North Avenue,
Linking Road (Above Kotak Mahindra Bank), Santacruz (West), Mumbai, 400 054
Tel: +91 226 6905400
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Happy Thinking People France SAS
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Tel: +33 1 53 66 60 95
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