What might research bots might be used for?

Had a fascinating conversation with David Bausola yesterday about Demographic Replicators or DGRs as they have become known. I'm working on a workshop and MRS paper about how content can be folded in properly as part of Market Research. There seem to be 3 roles where bots can play a role.

Terminator Half human half machine – I know I know Terminators are 100% robot but we have all been fixated by Arnie's half human and robot face. This kind of research bot becomes a living dynamic sample. Some of the outputs come from people who whether they know it or not have had their content repurposed by the bot.  Some of the output is purely based on the aggregated characteristics of the group the bot represents. So the bot is actually selecting original content – this is not just a twitter/blog feed. Scary but it is starting to happen!

Scarecrow Scarecrows or lures. The presence of bots themselves is drawing out links and comments – so the bot is acting as stimulus to draw content from particular groups based on empathy or I suppose you could have antipathy – racist bot anybody? So the output of the bot is less important than the output that it draws out of others. Again people may not be aware that the bot is not a real person or that the content they are producing is actually part of a research project – MRS regulators are really going to love this one (not)

Snow-white-mirror Research mirrors – this is where web content becomes pure bricolage. We don't pretend that it is objective but what emerges is an incredibly rich source of what-ifs and consumer trends which the researcher looks into and then writes up some of the possibilities – so it functions as a kind of brainstorming tool for a fraction of the cost of conducting fieldwork. This is quite close to netnography which is a formal observation study of web behavious and artefacts but much quicker and dirtier.

I am sure there are going to be howls of protest about the use of bots. Wake up and smell the coffee. The use of bots and automated programmes is central to the way the web works. Use google you just used a bot. The kinds of bot  I am itemising above are short text based routines which pick up key words or a sample of people and aggregate them in a way which would fool just about anybody. If researchers opt not to use these then they are at an increasing disadvantage to other forms of decision support which businesses are making increasing use of. The paper I am writing is looking at how researchers can avoid becoming those people who administer questionnaires when business people have learned how to make decisions without relying on such sources.




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