Mike Rowland pointed me to this MarketSherpa article Third Year Results from Hallmark's Online Market Research Experiment
Hallmark Cards has been a beacon in the online community world thanks to their focus on using online communities for the past few years. This article provides a good look at the results they've seen from doing customer market research via online communities and The Hallmark Idea Exchange.
In the last year I've been involved in user research done the more analog way: observations, testing and focus groups. I believe in it, but it's expensive to conduct and takes a lot of time. I could see research like Hallmark is doing becoming a real opportunity for a lot of businesses-- it's cheap and can produce excellent results.
Brailsford explains, "You can do three focus groups and hear from about 24 consumers and it'll cost you two or three weeks and $10,000. We can hear regularly from 150 consumers in 36 hours on a particular issue. We have evidence from linguistic analyses that suggests that the content we get from the communities is far richer than what comes from a focus group. We're trying to get faster, better, and cheaper."