Build This Meme: Reader-Friendly Surveys

The Fix-Me-Up You see them on MySpace, Livejournal, and other blog spaces with a young-ish crowd: long, text-heavy “About Me” surveys without any formatting. The writers spend hours answering detailed questions about themselves, from their shoe sizes to their most recent sexual encounters, and then they post them for their friends to read. The trouble is, their friends squint at these surveys, try to scan for the interesting parts, and eventually click away because it’s just a big blob of text. This is a sample of one I just grabbed off the web (the full version is 135 questions):

1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?: Innie2. What is your heritage?: English3. What does your hair look like right now?: like hair4. Could you ever be a vegetarian?: probably not5. When was your last heartbreak?: never?6. Describe your looks: long hair…7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be? a reddish, copper, bronze color8. Would you ever date someone younger than you? no

Wouldn’t you rather read this?

  1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?: Innie
  2. What is your heritage? English
  3. What does your hair look like right now? like hair
  4. Could you ever be a vegetarian? probably not
  5. When was your last heartbreak? never?
  6. Describe your looks: long hair…
  7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be? a reddish, copper, bronze color
  8. Would you ever date someone younger than you? no

Or this?

  1. Is your bellybutton an innie or outie?:
        Innie
  2. What is your heritage?
        English
  3. What does your hair look like right now?
        like hair
  4. Could you ever be a vegetarian?
        probably not
  5. When was your last heartbreak?
        never?
  6. Describe your looks:
        long hair…
  7. If you had to completely dye your hair, what color would it be?
        a reddish, copper, bronze color
  8. Would you ever date someone younger than you?
        no

…or any other variation on formatting that separates question from answer and guides your eye down the page? The trouble is, the writers aren’t quite so invested in these surveys that they want to spend another few hours figuring out how to make them look good with html tags. So they write. And only their most devoted friend bothers to read. And the web is cluttered with ugliness. Let’s fix this, shall we? Surveys aren’t going to go away, so let’s make them prettier and readable. The FixI have a solution to propose, and I’m throwing it out there for anyone who’d like to take it on (my plate is full and this need can’t wait). Here it is:

  1. Lay the foundation. Start with a flexible and secure content management system (CMS) as your foundation (you can demo a bunch of free ones here).
  2. Open it up for anyone to contribute to. Build a module for the CMS that allows users to log in and create surveys. Let them name the survey, add a brief description, and post as many questions as they want via a form (on second thought, limit them to 300 questions. This could get messy). Have the module enter the questions individually into a database table, so you can work with them later.
  3. Empower people to spread the word. After a user creates a survey, send them to a Thank You page that helps them promote their survey. Give them HTML code with a link to post on their blog. Give them a plain text URL to put into an email. Heck, you could throw in a “tell a friend” email address entry box, too. Finish with a link for them now to take their own survey. Also, give survey-makers profiles that list all the surveys they’ve made.
  4. Let survey-takers be anonymous. Anyone can take a survey–no need to be a registered user. Have a complete listing of all surveys anyone has created in the system, and people will take them. To take a survey, they simply fill out a form (question, text box, question, text box…), and then press “Submit”.
  5. Give them choices. Don’t enter their answers into a database. Simply carry the answers to the next page, where you offer several different blocks of html code (and a short preview of what each block would look like). Each block is a different visual format that they can use to display the survey–in all its readable glory–on their own website. Include a plain-text option for emails. All they need to do is copy and paste. And at the end of each block is a link for someone else to follow to take the same survey.
  6. Combat abuse. Allow users to flag user-created surveys that seem like an abuse of the system, so you can be alerted to them. This way, you can sit back and let the community police itself.

If you’re fluent in PHP and are already know a CMS, you can probably build this in an afternoon. If not, this would be a great project for getting your feet wet.The IncentiveSo aside from making the web a prettier place, why should you do this? It’s simple. This would be a very useful and very viral meme. You could expect a lot of traffic, and most of those people would be bored web surfers between the ages of 16 and 25–a demographic that likes to click links. If you added some advertising (tactfully… not myspace-style) and helped spread the word, you could probably turn a pretty penny. You’d also get your name out there as The Person Who Saved Us From Unreadable Surveys. Expect undying appreciation. If you want to take on the programming but need someone else to host it and/or make it pretty, I’ll take those on and we’ll split the rewards. There’s no need to invest money in what we can build together for free.But somebody, please, take care of this crisis. Who’s up to the challenge? Leave a comment below to announce your intentions.

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12 Responses to “Build This Meme: Reader-Friendly Surveys”

  1. Karina Says:

    Sarah ~ I’m your woman and would LOVE to tackle this project if someone could respond to give a newbie some more specific tips. :D What tools specifically and where would I get the nice little snippets of php codes to build this reader-friendly meme?

  2. michael Says:

    You bring up a good point here.

    Those surveys tend to hurt my eyes however they’re formatted. I get the impression the bulk of people who are posting details about the type of belly button they sport aren’t necessarily fans of proper design and element structure like the rest of us.

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  7. Designer Sunglasses Says:

    I actually prefered the second survey template but I doubt anyone gives a monkey’s what I reckon nearly 2 years after the original post!

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