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Poll Time

The hardest part about doing an online poll isn’t the poll itself, but figuring out what you want to really find out. And these days there are more choices than ever for low-cost surveying sources that make the process of polling pretty easy.

Since taking a class in user experience design last year, I have been experimenting with a few different kinds of polls to collect information for my articles. It has been a mixed bag. I tried out LinkedIn Polls and used Google Forms, and both were less than satisfying for different reasons.

pollAnd I am not even concerned about valid or representative sampling techniques, even though I do have a dim memory of my earlier statistics classes when I was in graduate school and we had to do things the old fashioned pencil-and-paper Chi Squared ways.

A good place to start with surveys is go to review the suggestions for survey design from Caroline Jarrett. She has written books on the topic and speaks extensively at various user design conferences. She has some great examples of the more common errors in creating surveys and tips on what you should do too. I linked to her in a story that I wrote for Dr. Dobbs last year.

In the piece I also mention some other tips for doing online surveys, and include links to five survey service providers. They vary in cost from free to $200 a month; depending on which service provider you choose and how many responses you plan on receiving.

In addition to the providers I mention, several years ago LinkedIn added the ability to create polls (polls.linkedin.com). You can send out free polls to your entire network, but if you want to target them to a specific group it will cost you at least $50 per poll. You can use the service if you have a free LinkedIn account too. They haven’t done a very good job of publicizing the polls feature, which is too bad because it is dirt simple to use.

I tried it out and didn’t exactly get much in the way of responses, but the reporting is nice: you get age, gender and job title breakdown, should your respondents choose to allow this information to be reported to you. (You can see the results above.)

LinkedIn Polls isn’t as sophisticated as some of the ones mentioned in my article, but is a great place to start if you are trying to get some quick research done. Another free service that has more flexibility is Google Forms. You assemble your poll questions into a template document, and you can send out the link to your peeps. When they reply their answers are recorded in a Google Spreadsheet, at least in theory. Mine didn’t quite work, and I am not sure why. You get a link to the results and there are some nice graphs that are produced automatically. It is a bit more complex to use than LinkedIn, but still you don’t need a course in statistics to figure it out (and maybe that is what tripped me up).

Any poll that you create you’ll probably want to use some kind of scheduling program such as Hootsuite or something similar to periodically remind your peeps about your poll, or otherwise to advertise its existence among your social networks. LinkedIn makes it easy by have its own URL shortener, along with handy buttons to repost the poll to your Facebook and Twitter streams too. Google creates a special link to the poll that you can send out via email.


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More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times, TechTarget.com, PC Week/eWeek, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and news.com, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.