Editor’s note: Ed Crowley is CEO of the Photizo Group, a marketing research firm based in Lexington, Ky.

My first job out of college in 1984 was to start up an online marketing research service for agriculture producers (FarmPulse). We recruited over 200 high-income farmers in over 20 states and provided them with Minitel terminals and an online service providing commodity pricing, weather and other market data (produced on a Radio Shack TRS-80 with multiplexers). All the farmer had to do was look on the service once or twice a week and answer an ad copy test questionnaire or some other short, focused questionnaire. In return they received free market and commodity information in almost real time. We could turn around an ad copy test or concept test in 24 hours with a quantitative sample. A similar study using traditional fielding methods could easily take months. This was breakthrough stuff!

At this time, state-of-the-art was considered to be CATI centers or mail surveys. CompuServe and Prodigy were just being launched. AOL wasn’t even online yet. I remember presenting this concept to a senior executive in charge of marketing research at a large agrichemical producer. I was told that I was an idiot. The only way to do marketing research was via CATI systems, focus groups, intercepts or good old pen-and-paper surveys. It was a pretty stinging rebuke for a kid fresh out of college. In all fairness, we were more successful using the service as a door opener than as a revenue producer.

Online changed the research landscape. I don’t think any researcher today would argue that online research is invalid. It made panels of all sizes more manageable. It increased the speed at which research is conducted. It really changed the process for conducting a research project from recruiting sample to fielding surveys to a new digital paradigm. And I believe the next paradigm is about to sweep away the industry as ...