One of the best examples of everything that's right about this whole Web 2.0 thing is WuFoo, the service that makes creating a Web form -- and collecting data from it -- about as simple as dreaming up a few questions. Recently I heard about a similar site, AskItOnline, that is being designed for the somewhat different job of collecting data from surveys.
I wasn't going to write about AskItOnline just yet since the site is still in closed beta and many necessary features haven't yet been built. But I saw it pop up on Del.icio.us, and it got a link on e-Hub. It turns out that a lot of people are interested in what this site promises to deliver.
I got access to the beta and communicated with its builder, Kaitlyn McLachlan. What I saw was a work in progress -- with much work yet to be done. The form designer is the most complete feature, and it's encouraging. It's very much like WuFoo's designer, although there are some specific question types that WuFoo doesn't have. For example, you can set up big grids of matrix questions like you often find on consumer surveys.
But there's more to a survey than forms. Specifically, running a good survey means getting the right people to answer it, and then doing analysis on the results beyond just counting replies.
I don't get the impression that AskItOnline will offer much in the way of helping you create "panels" of people distributed across whatever population you're trying to survey. "We'll cross that bridge once we get to it," McLachlan wrote to me. I hope she gets to it soon, since without this feature, respondents will be self-selected, potentially skewing survey results badly.
On the other hand, when it's released to the public, AskItOnline should offer solid reports, statistics, and analysis. McLachlan told me, "We will have everything from simple statistics to extremely advanced statistics and reports." I'm looking forward to trying those features.
I like how AskItOnline looks right now, and what's being built could be extremely useful. But running a truly representative and reliable survey is not a simple business, so I hope that the simple-above-all-else Web 2.0 design aesthetic doesn't trump good survey science.