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By Michael Neubarth
Wikibon is a new type of IT research service for CIOs and other IT professionals based on an "open source" model. As its name implies, Wikibon's research is created and made available in the form of a wiki, enabling contributors worldwide to post content, add to existing content, and offer changes and amendments.
I spoke with Dave Vellante, founder of Wikibon, about his company's open source model, how it differs from traditional paid services, and its value to CIOs. Vellante is a former senior vice president of IDC, where he headed its hardware and software business.
How does Wikibon's open source model differ from traditional research services like Gartner, IDC, Forrester, Yankee Group and Burton Group? Unlike these traditional research firms, said Vellante, Wikibon's research is available for free. Wikibon makes money through vendor sponsorship of its research portals and through consulting.
"The material the traditional groups make available for free is emasculated," said Vellante. "The good stuff is for pay. The free stuff is teasers designed to get people to pay. Our good stuff is free and open."
A lot of research groups also have become "hired guns," said Vellante. "When research firms have become vendor advocates and write whitepapers for pay, they are being paid to say something positive. The research firms don't disclose that the vendor paid for the research. They fool the customers."
"We have great respect for Gartner and IDC," said Vellante. "However we feel the paid-for whitepaper business is a broken model. Akin to big pharma paying docs. It's tainted and half true."
While not every research group writes whitepapers that favor the vendors who pay for them, the practice is common, said Vellante. "I think many companies take vendor money for pay and will write whatever the vendor wants. Some produce junk, while others produce some good research wrapped in fluff to make the vendors happy. Either way, any criticisms are toned down to placate the vendors. These pieces are not very useful for practitioners."
While IDC does not misrepresent its vendor-sponsored whitepapers, said Vellante, the delicacy with which vendors tend to be treated in their sponsored whitepapers dilutes their value. "IDC has two businesses in my view," Vellante explained. "One is the numbers and data. The other is advocacy. I think IDC's data is very good and I think IDC in general does a good job of trying to be balanced. I think on balance they're better than most. However, when it comes to their paid-for whitepapers, you won't find much useful info for CIOs in these pieces in my opinion. In fairness, IDC specifies when whitepapers are sponsored. Most other firms don't."
Wikibon's open source model eliminates vendor bias, said Vellante. "Despite our sponsorship model, you won't find that on our site. It's a wiki and contributions can come from anyone. We edit the contributions to make sure that they're not rude or untrue, but opposing views are published and encouraged. Even if they're negative toward a vendor."
Relative to Gartner's for-pay research model, said Vellante, "our main difference is we're free and peer-produced. Free of charge and we're open source, which allows freedom of use. We're also open to Google's crawlers so all our content gets indexed. Other firms put all the best stuff behind a firewall and Web users can't get to it. As a result, we reach orders of magnitude more people."
Wikibon's research method is more open and democratic, says Vellante. "Our vision is to ask the community. Tap the knowledge of the community. We don't put the analyst on a pedestal to be the big guru. We want to be the source of quality information. And our information is not static. Our information in a wiki is organic. We can evolve."
To maintain and grow revenues, the traditional service firms also slice and dice their research offerings into increasingly more categories and specialties in an attempt to "squeeze blood from a stone," said Vellante.
Traditional analyst firms also make it difficult for customers to talk to analysts, said Vellante. "So many people buy these services. It takes a month to get in the queue to talk to an analyst."