Editor's note: Al Fitzgerald is president and founder of Answers Research, Inc., Solana Beach, Calif.

We've all experienced firsthand how the Internet does indeed make the world a smaller place. And we also know the Internet has in some ways not yet reached its much-touted potential for marketers. Publicly traded dot-coms (that have lasted the industry shake-out) have leveled off to reasonable double-digit share prices, and advertisers have learned that a banner ad does not equal instant market-share leadership. Within this reevaluation of the online sector, market researchers have continued to tap into Web-based resources. One of the most significant ways in which the Internet can be used to reach customers across the globe is through online panel studies. While reduced costs are often recognized immediately as a benefit, the fact that online panels can often cut the data collection time by 90 percent or more should not be overlooked.

With some 500 million people online worldwide, the Internet has certainly succeeded in bringing the world community together. And with over 100 million Internet users in the Asia-Pacific region and a conservative 30 to 50 million users in China and Japan respectively, online panel development is becoming one of the most efficient ways for marketers to reach their customers. Prior to the recent Internet explosion, when in-person or telephone interviewing were the market research mainstays, it was typical for data collection in China or Japan to last four to eight weeks (or longer) and require enormous budgets. Today, using an online panel, data collection for the same types of studies can be completed in a matter of four to eight days and require far fewer research dollars.

The steady online user growth in China and Japan illustrates the necessity for marketers - particularly from companies offering IT-industry related products - to explore and target these geogra...