I love stealth market research — that is, unusual ways of figuring out what companies and competitors are doing. There are all sorts of ways of doing this sort of thing, from counting cars in company parking lots on outward. But there is no denying that technology continually creates new ways of ethically observing companies, and therefore new kinds of stealth research.
One of the more entertaining practitioners of this sort of thing is, in a Google tech context, Garett Rogers over at ZD. In the past he has delved into Gmail code to discover new upcoming features and services — he tipped Google Apps long before anyone else. He also tracks the company’s domain registrations and today showed how keeping an eye on Google’s robots.txt file can tip new functions, like the company’s new Google Movies feature.
Equity analysts, market researchers, competitive strategists and others should be watching closely. There are many unblocked holes in company’s strategic defences, as well as in meta-info like keyword data (Hey, my competitor just started buying keywords around one of my products!). Some of this will never be blocked, but all of these emerging forms of market & competitive data are worth watching.