AD AGE DATAPLACE: 100 LEADING RESEARCH COMPANIES: NFO EXEC SEES MOST RESEARCH GOING TO INTERNET: POLLING VALUE CITED; WEB SITES MUSHROOM

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The computer screen is showing a bigger picture to many executives in research-the Internet.

"The research business is about to get a sea change," says Charles Hamlin, exec VP-interactive business at NFO Research.

He predicts in the next few years 50% of all research will be done on the Internet.

Supporting such an assessment is the fact that computers and databases are the engines that drive the biggest research operations.

It's a generational change, too. Young professionals dominate the 20% of Americans using the Internet, according to studies. There is room to grow because 40% of the country has some form of computer literacy, he said, adding people are increasingly reluctant to participate in telephone surveys.

"Besides, the Internet is more fun," he says.

William Moult, president-CEO of ASI Marketing Research, believes research will interact with TV as well.

Steve Lombardo, president of KRC Research & Consulting, says Internet use for public opinion polling is doubling and sometimes tripling each month.

"Ten years from now national telephone surveys will be the subject of research methodology folklore," he says.

WILL TAKE 20 YEARS

That's a little too soon in the view of Decision Analyst President-CEO Jerry Thomas, "but in 20 years, yes."

It would seem that a Web site is critical to Internet growth in research. Thirty-nine of the 100 Leading Research Companies have a Web site, most of those coming the last two years.

To replace mail, Decision Analyst last year started to develop an Internet panel. It now has 5,000 households, moving toward a total of 10,000 by year-end. In 24 hours, Decision Analyst can assemble an online panel and get responses.

Mr. Hamlin claims NFO is running the biggest interactive panel, NFO net.source, which has 70,000 households. The Internet panel allows the researcher to "pipe" into the underlying validity of the response.

"The question, `What kind of car do you want?' can be asked," says Mr. Hamlin. "The answer may be `a Lexus.' The computer then sorts out the information that you now drive a Chevrolet, raising the question of why you want to change and whether your answer is reliable.

"You can't do that on the telephone," he says.

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