Creating a survey is essentially a five-step process that works almost like a Web-based wizard. In the first step, we entered general information such as survey title, confirmation messages and redirects (where to send people when they complete the surveyin tests, we sent them back to eWEEK.com), and the look and feel of the survey. These things can be controlled by template, and several PHP templates are provided with the application. When it came time to create the survey questions, we had a wide variety of options, from simple yes/no to multiple choice to scales to open-ended fill-ins. We could also define whether an answer to the question was required.We could then alter the order of our questions and add page breaks between questions if we so desired, preview the survey in our browser, and finish the survey. Completed surveys can be delivered as stand-alone Web pages or can be embedded in existing Web pages through a small amount of PHP code. Once a survey is completed, phpESP makes it possible to test the survey and view results without making the survey live. After testing, we could activate the survey to deliver it to respondents. One annoyance in phpESP was that it was impossible to go back and edit a survey once it had been clicked as finished. To make changes at this point, we had to create a copy of the original survey and edit that. This also made it difficult for two people to collaborate on creating a survey. Still, while we found some of the interface quirks annoyingespecially when compared with the user-friendly interfaces in survey products such as Catapult Systems Corp.s Inquisite and Perseus Development Corp.s SurveySolutions XPnone were particularly problematic. In fact, the eWEEK editor who is using phpESP to create surveys mastered the interface in very little time. We would like the option to create e-mail-only surveys as well as the Web-based variety, but even commercial products such as Inquisite dont provide this capability. In addition to Testing and Active, survey status can be defined as End, when responses are no longer being taken, and Archive, when it is stored in the database but easy access to results is no longer available. We would have liked the option of simply deleting a survey, especially when it was one that we had copied to edit. PhpESP provides a good amount of results analysis, even letting us view results as they arrived in real time. We could choose to view the results of all respondents or drill down to individual responses. Results from multiple surveys can be cross-tabulated to view trends, and results can also be exported as comma-delimited text for use in Excel and other analysis tools. PhpESP held up well performancewise, handling close to 1,000 responses in the span of a few hours while running on a fairly modest Intel Corp. Pentium III system with the open-source Apache browser. East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although this interface is surprisingly good for a Web-based, open-source application, it does come up short compared with the word- processor-like interface found in many commercial survey applications. Also, it took a little trial and error to get the questions just the way we wanted them.