Always being up to a million different things is one of the perils of being me. An unfortunate side-effect is that some things tend to be neglected for a while, like this blog. One of the reasons is that I’ve been trying to research the availability and implementation of free online survey tools for WordPress.
A friend of mine wants to setup a complex survey on her WordPress blog. The idea is to ask some questions on a topic, study the reader response, gather some statistics and arrive at some conclusions — your bog standard survey stuff, really. The challenge and boon of doing an online survey is that a more complex system can be setup to get more out of the process. Ideally, the software tools should be able to gather data, compile statistics, provide some immediate feedback to the participant, and possibly interface with a mailing list or auto-response sequence to allow further contact with the reader. With these lofty goals in mind I set off on my own survey of the available tools.
- WbExam and WbQuiz plugins
I first stumbled upon the WbExam and WbQuiz plugins which do exactly what their names indicate. While similar in functionality, they each allow for a specialised type of online form setup. Unfortunately, the focus here is on the immediate evaluation of the answers and reader response rather than on data collection and study. After a quick look, I couldn’t find any mention or evidence that these plugins contained any data storage components at all. They are, however, very well suited for quiz and exam content that is aimed solely at the user experience, rather than statistical research.
The other stumbling block for most might be that the questions need to be setup by editing code in a template file rather than in the WordPress administrative backend. If the functionality these provide is what you’re looking for, however, I think it’s well worth the effort.
- Survey Gizmo
Survey Gizmo looked like a very promising plugin, and the feature list was extensive and impressive. On further study I realised that this was not stand-alone, but instead it was a bridge plugin that connected to some sort of survey API hosted on that site as a service. As a rule I like to avoid these external services, so I passed on this one. But if you’re looking to set up feature rich surveys on your WordPress blog, and you’re not to bothered about having your site be functionally self-sufficient, this might be an interesting option.
- WP Survey Creator
While not blessed with tons of documentation, WP Survey Creator was closer to the kind of solution I was looking for — a native WordPress administration page to create the question sets, a default field to collect email addresses etc. Unfortunately its straight-forward simplicity, while refreshing, didn’t quite cover all the options I was looking for. This plugin only allows for questions that will be answered by a multi-choice 1-5 scale. This is a perfect system to study user feedback and ratings, but it would be crippling if any more detailed answers were required for your research. So, a good basic option for certain uses, but I moved on.
- Survey Fly
[UPDATE 05 Dec 2009 : The Survey Fly site linked above seems to be down for a while now. Thanks to David Esrati for the warning in the comments and also for pointing me towards Survey Fly’s spiritual successor: wp-surveys.]
I wasn’t expecting much when I found yet another survey plugin, but I was pleasantly surprised by Survey Fly. It is a very feature complete plugin for its intended purpose. You can add a new survey in the admin area and specify the questions and possible answers for your survey. Responses are stored and statistics can be accessed as simple figures or exported to a CSV file for more complex study and analysis.
Survey Fly supports almost any kind of HTML form based question you can imagine. This allows for a great amount of flexibility in the collected information. The only drawback (for some) will be that only one survey can be active at a time. Every time a new survey is added the older one becomes inactive and inaccessible. Other than that one shortcoming, and the lack of any ability to provide the survey participant with an immediate individual response based on their answers, this is as good as WordPress survey plugins get.
My aim is to find a WordPress integrated solution to this problem, but I am not completely averse to an external solution if it has many functional advantages in its favour. phpMyAdahas is a fully customizable online survey application using XHTML, CSS, PHP and MySQL. It seems to be very capable, supports multi-page questionnaires, various answering options, and it is even compliant with various web accessibility standards. If your looking for a solution to some heavy duty online surveying needs, this might be the right system for you.
- POST data manipulation using php and CURL
I would have loved to find a survey solution that would somehow auto-magically plug into my email newsletter or autoresponder system of choice. But, considering my disappointment with the free tools available in that area, I was not surprised to see that my ideal solution didn’t exist.
This meant that I would need to create the connection myself if these integrated data submissions for both survey and signup had to be accomplished. After a bit of searching I found this nice article on manipulating form data that is passed to PHP scripts. Not being well versed in PHP at the moment, most of this goes over my head, but I do realise that the solutions I seek are explained in this page, if I only I take the time to understand and implement.
At the end of it all, I never did find my ideal online survey tool, although Survey Fly comes close. From my limited study of the available tools, my ideal solution would be something that had Survey Fly at its base, with the immediate evaluation capabilities of WbQuiz/WbExam, and a co-submission of data to a newsletter script using PHP and CURL as described in the last link. Perhaps I will eventually get around to implementing this Frankenstein monster of free online survey tools myself, at least for my own use, by putting together the same ingredients I mentioned. Sometimes if you want something very specific, you simply have to do it yourself. I am thankful that at least the building blocks exist, and now it is a simple matter of learning some more PHP.