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Web-based survey tools


THIS WEEK NetSpeak focuses on a few programs/services that can be used to create/administer web-based surveys.

We often come across many situations in which we need to conduct a survey to get the feedback from a target group. For example, a trainer would like to conduct a survey among the course participants to get an idea about the effectiveness of training. In most of the surveys, though, generally, we need only a few frequency tables and some summary statistics, we have to do such mundane survey design/administration tasks as framing the questionnaire, distributing it among the participants and compiling the results. One solution to minimise this survey burden is to automate the various tasks mentioned above and conduct the survey on-line. Here, we will discuss the features of a few PHP-based programs that let us conduct a survey completely on-line.

PHP Easy Survey Package (phpESP)

phpESP (http://phpesp.source forge.net/) is a set of open-source PHP scripts that can be used to easily assemble a survey and launch it on the web so that respondents can participate from anywhere on the web. To use the software you need access to a web server with MySQL support.

Extract the archive on to the appropriate directory of your web server, create a database and assign a user to it for storing the survey database. Now, populate the database with required tables using the script available at `phpesp\scripts\db' and make the necessary configuration adjustments in the file `admin\phpesp.ini.php'.

After setting-up the survey system, log-in to the management interface using the URL: http://localhost/phpESP/admin. Create a survey using the `Create a New Survey' option. As the whole process is very straightforward we will not elaborate on the process further. Once you finish the survey creation process, the tool will give you a web address that can be pasted on to a web page or sent to the participants. To make the survey live, make it active by changing the `status' of the survey. Using such options as `View Results' and `Cross Tabulate Survey Results' you can obtain the survey answers tabulated from anywhere on the web anytime.

PHPSurveyor

Another PHP-based survey package tried out by this author is the free software, PHPSurveyor (http://phpsurveyor.sourceforge.net/). Here also, you need to create a database to hold the respondents' data and other survey related information. After installing the package on to the web server, move to the administration page by entering the URL: http://localhost/survey/admin/admin.php. This page can be used for such admin tasks as creating new surveys, editing existing surveys and the like. To start a new survey, click on the `Add survey' button and fill-up the fields contained in the form displayed.

Here you can set various survey parameters that include language and expiry date. During this stage the system will provide you a survey URL that can be used by the participants to enter the survey page.

After creating a survey, you need to create a questionnaire by adding questions. For this, create a group and then start adding questions to this group.

The system comes bundled with different types of questions that include list, list with comment, five-point choice, multiple options and ranking. Now, activate the survey so that the respondents can start entering their data.

To analyse the survey results using some other software, you can export the survey data to them. For exporting the data, move to the `Browse Responses' page by clicking on the `Browse..' button. The data can be exported to MS Excel/Word format or plain text format. If you don't want to do any rigorous survey analysis with an external package like Excel, you can use the Surveyor's `statistics' feature to obtain quick information from the survey data.

On-line free survey hosting

If you don't have access to a web server or are not keen to install/set-up a survey package, you can enlist the service of an on-line survey hosting service. One such service that can be used to float an on-line survey in a few minutes time is the on-line survey tool Zoomerang (http://www.zoomerang.com), which has a free version with some restrictions. After signing-up with the service, you will get an interface for creating/managing surveys. Using the `new survey' option you can create a survey and once you are done with questionnaire creation process the service will provide you a survey URL that can be sent to the respondents. Once the survey is launched, you can start viewing the tabulated survey results through the `My Surveys' page.

Another service worth a look is the Infopoll (http://www.infopoll.com/) that hosts the free software, Infopoll Designer, which can be used to quickly create web-enabled questionnaires.

As the free mail service Yahoo does not support POP access, a user can access her Yahoo mailbox only through the Web interface. If you are a Yahoo mail user who wants to download mails from it through a mail client like Eudora or Outlook, instead of accessing the mailbox through the web, try out the free open-source program YahooPOPs.

The program works as a mail proxy in your machine and by making some configuration adjustments, you can make your mail client communicate with YahooPOPs while it checks for Yahoo mail. Instead of checking the Yahoo server directly, the mail client contacts the YahooPOPs running on your machine, which in turn contacts Yahoo, collects the mails and passes them on to the mail client. For more details, access: http://yahoopops.sourceforge.net/ index.php

Free2code: On-line tutorials

On the web you can find several sites that host tutorials on a wide range of subjects. If you are a computer enthusiast, check out the site Free2Code (http://www.free2code.net/tutorials/) that contains many free tutorials on such varied subjects as Networking, Operating Systems, Web Development and Programming.

J. Murali

Email the author at: murali27@satyam.net.in

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