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Polls and E-Mail Surveys

Polls and E-Mail Surveys

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Published by: alhambrasource on Nov 27, 2012
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11/27/12J-Learning: -- -- Polls and E-mail Surveys1/4www.j-learning.org/pages/print/polls_and_e_mail_surveys/
Present It! Reporting Community Data
Polls and E-mail Surveys
Some years ago, the Myrtle Beach Sun News was looking for a way to tap what was on the minds of residents inthat fast-growing resort community but couldn't afford a formal community survey.The Internet, with its survey tools and polling software, was only just beginning to make inroads intonewsrooms. So, the newspaper went with another simple, low cost tool: It distributed neon yellow postcards withsix questions and asked people to write in and mail the cards back to the paper.One of the questions: "What really makes you mad right now?"The responses were not scientific, but they were passionate and generated a useful roadmap for reporting on thecommunity. A large number of the respondents agreed on an answer that surprised some editors: "Tackybeachwear stores," they proclaimed.The Sun News' query, while successful in its way, had the same shortcomings as most web polls, It was not sentto a scientifically representative pool of possible respondents; the respondents were self-selected; and they couldhave sent in more than one post card, if anyone felt like it.And like most web polls, it worked best as a
starting point 
for a story about mounting tensions in the community— not the end story in itself.For community websites, some of the best uses for online polls and e-mail surveys are to get an early sense of issues that are surfacing on your residents' radar screens. That sensibility can then be used as a fulcrum forreporting a full-fledged story, to take the community's pulse on a particular issue, or to leaven discussions in yourforums.Various local news sites have used polling techniques to ask users to:Participate in a contest; say, to name an initiative.Brainstorm solutions to a community problem.Others take their "polling" offline and build a database of user contacts and information so they can surveypeople informally via e-mail."We use our reader e-mail database all the time to survey readers informally for anecdotal information to helpflesh out a story," says Ken Sands, online publisher of the SpokesmanReview.com. "In fact, I've now run anumber of nationwide surveys using a network I've built up of newsrooms around the country that can send outthe same e-mail to readers, directing them to a central website for results to be collected.""We've purposely asked for essay responses so that we get quotes for stories. But we've also found that we needto have some quantitative 'yes-no' types of questions to get some sense of proportion without having to readevery single essay question and figure out how it should be tallied.""No, these surveys are not scientific, so they are not statistically valid," he said. "But for purposes of getting apulse of the community, they're very valid."One tip: If you are a small community site and want to do a formal poll in your community, think about buildingsome useful partnerships. You can reach out to such partners as a local journalism school, the survey researchdepartment of a local university or the marketing department of a nearby business school. They may wellcollaborate on a community/class project.
Of Quizzes and Polls
 
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From a programming point of view, a quiz is a just poll with special "correct" answers, though there can also bedifferences in the way you compare answers, keep track of responses, etc.One other way that quizzes and polls might vary is that you might want to structure a quiz question by question,so that a user answers one question and sees the result before they proceed to the next question.And of course, you should note that people LOVE to "cheat" on quizzes, taking them multiple times or trying tofigure out how to get a perfect score, so treat the results with at least twice the skepticism you do your pollresults. 
Why Poll?
A 2003 poll by the Pew Internet & American Live Project found that 44 percent of adult Internet users hadcontributed content online in some way — to respond to something, to publish their thoughts, to post pictures orshare files. Another Pew poll in 2004 found that 26 percent of adult Internet users had rated a product, a serviceor a person using an online rating system. So a poll may be one way to capture some of this willingness tocontribute.
Polls are a good trigger for interactivity.
Asking a question and presenting a simple button to click "yea" or"nay" prompts a response far more effectively than a simple link that says "Participate in our site forums."Providing a link from poll results to a discussion forum might also convince a few extra participants to join in.
Polls are graphically interesting.
On a site that's text heavy, polls can provide a compelling visual elementand an entry point to a story or a page for people who are just scanning your site. See the simple poll The Forum,of Deerfield, N.H., used for the opening of its new Farmer's Market.
http://www.forumhome.org/Polls can be good for page views.
Depending on how you construct your poll software, every poll vote cantrigger a new page view. Ditto for when a reader wants to view the results – they'll usually have to load a newpage to do so. And of course, if someone likes your polls and wants to see the results of some other polls, they'llhave to load more pages.Do note that with modern CSS and AJAX techniques, it's possible to create polls that display within a single pageand require no extra page loads. How you decide to implement polls is up to you, and readers might appreciatenot having to reload everything each time they vote.
What is AJAX?
AJAX, a relative newcomer to the world of web page construction, is short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.It involves using JavaScript to fetch and return data in the background, without causing a page to reload. Thetechnology has existed in browsers for several years, but its use didn't attract significant attention until Googlestarted using it for Google Maps, Gmail and other applications. Now, many new websites, such as Flickr andMoveable Type, use AJAX techniques to allow users to quickly edit and access data from parts of a page. 
Polls can be a stand-alone feature.
Not all polls have to be associated with a story. Sometimes just thequestions, and the responses, can be interesting.
Polls can be fun.
The truth is, polls can be a place to inject a bit of levity or serendipity into your site. You don'twant to go overboard with this but there's still a chance to amuse your readers and yourselves with a poll. Maybeyou can get a local historian to contribute a fun-facts quiz about your community and solicit a local business todonate small prizes for the winning answers.
Poll Risks
Among the biggest risks of Internet polls are that users will flood the poll with multiple responses and that userswill think that web polls are statistically valid.Self-selected polls, even if they are completely tamper-proof, are simply not valid indicators of the community atlarge. Professional pollsters spend much time and money trying to get a representative sample – old, young, rich,poor, ethnically diverse — to answer their questions.A web poll is limited to a rather narrow sample of people who can afford a computer and Internet service, who
 
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are interested in your site, and who are motivated to respond to your poll.Online, you need to state clearly that poll results are not scientifically valid and make sure that your poll viewersand participants realize that the results should not be taken as anything more than the views of a few like-minded individuals.As for poll tampering, it can, and probably will, happen. Polls that hit on particularly polarizing issues or thatmeasure the popularity of anything with a strong fan base will invite attempts to skew the results. For example,"What's your favorite TV show, operating system or political party?" would probably see some attempts to "stuff"the ballot box. You can, however, take some steps to limit poll tampering.
How to Minimize Tampering
If you allow only registered users to vote in your poll and you tie those votes to the user name, you can cutdown on most tampering. A drawback, however, is that many people won't register
only 
to vote in a poll so ithelps to have other offerings or reasons for someone to want to register.It should be noted, however, that registration itself is difficult to make tamper proof. Requiring a valid, unique e-mail address is one step.You can also decide to filter excess poll voting by setting a cookie each time a person votes. If the voters block orerase their cookies, they would be able to vote again – so this is not a perfect solution. It is quick and transparentto the user, though.If you store each vote along with the voter's IP address, you can block repeat votes from one IP. This overcomesthe problem of those who erase their cookie so they can vote multiple times. However, this also blocks groups of people connecting from behind a single firewall, such as people working in the same office or from a universityserver. They share an IP and so might not be able to have each person's vote count.In truth, while you certainly want to put in place the best tamper resistance you can, it's just as important tomonitor your polls and simply take down ones that seem to be showing evidence of foul play.
Poll Displays
When it comes to showing the results of a poll, there are a few formats to consider.Raw numbers in a chart is nice for those who want to analyze data, but the numbers themselves can beoverwhelming for others.Will you be buying the new Harry Potter book?Yes21725%No45453%Maybe668%I'll Borrow It11714%
Total 854 100%
Line charts often make the most sense and can be used for almost any format of 
poll question
.Area (pie) charts are trickier to generate but tend to break out answers most clearly for basic questions wherethe respondents can only choose one of a set of answers.

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