In his May 1995 article “Focus groups on the internet: an interesting idea but not a good one,” veteran moderator and frequent Quirk’s author Thomas Greenbaum made a number of good points that, far from being the defensive carping of a traditionalist in the face of a technology that treatens his livelihood, are still relevant today. First, he cited the loss of some of the group dynamics that are inherent to gathering people in a room for a conversation. Second, the difficulties related to recruiting online respondents, who may find it easier to fake or misrepresent their identity. Third, related to the first point, not being physically in the same space with the respondents detracts from the skilled moderator’s ability to read the room and pick up on cues that could alter the path of the discussion. Fourth, Greenbaum argued that respondents, freed from the duty and the scrutiny of sitting in a room with the moderator, could be easily distracted and be doing other things like listening to music or watching TV. While his other assertion that the current state of online video technology wasn’t good enough for effectively showing packaging mockups or TV ads is now moot, everything he mentioned is still likely top-of-mind for online qual practitioners nearly three decades later.

Our early articles on conducting research online frequently mentioned the need to consider that not everyone has access to the internet. From 1998:

“An internal corporate survey may or may not be appropriate to place on the Web, depending both on the company and the employees being surveyed. Boeing Company, for example, has used the internet for surveys designed for managers and professional workers who are provided with computers and internet accounts by the company, but when surveying factory-floor employees who may not have the access and equipment, the more traditional pencil-and-paper methodology prevails.” 

Another piece ci...