Best way to count online ballots with numerous writeup answers?
April 1, 2008 7:25 AM   Subscribe

You know those "Best of" surveys that run in most alt weeklies? We've done online versions of them and its always been problematic, so we're looknig for better suggestions on how to do it.

The main problem seems to be is that ballots are "write in" meaning people type in their answer. So for "Best Sushi" the user has to write in "Takashi's Sushi Bar" or some such.

The problem starts here because not everyone can spell Takashi, or not everyone uses the aprostrophe S or some people write in the full name, while others write in just "Takashi". So for that one quesion, we can have numerous answers which the computer, yet in human terms are one and the same.

How can this be avoided, using off the self software? There's probaly not a perfect solution, but there's got to be something better than just having a person go through and manually count the digital ballots. We've used phpQ before and looking at SurveyMonkey, but they both have this fault. Can you suggest other survey software? Perhaps something that displays a pop menu of answers that have already been submitted, so can the user can pick from that list without having to type? and lets an admin go into the back and collate votes on a per question basis?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Can you get a database of local businesses? If so, do a search for "ajax autocomplete" and there are tons of apps out there that you can add to an existing form - for example. Or JotForm is a free WYSIWYG editor that will let you add an autocomplete field - you can cut & paste the business names from a list into the field's properties. This will at least minimize the errors, and won't restrict the respondent to the list.
posted by desjardins at 8:29 AM on April 1, 2008

I think there's a way to use Google's querying API to let Google do the correction for you. For example, if I query "takasshi", as part of Google's result XML, it will include the suggested spelling "takashi".
posted by mpls2 at 9:10 AM on April 1, 2008

And then you could normalize by, e.g., converting to all lowercase, removing 's for all words, etc.
posted by mpls2 at 9:20 AM on April 1, 2008

I've done this in the past when I worked at the Village Voice, and it's basically impossible to fix unless you have a canonical list of the businesses/venues you consider in the running for a category. These days, with services like Upcoming and Yelp or the various Google services and local offerings from Yahoo and MSN, there may well be fairly comprehensive databases you can use to prepopulate the list of answers for your readers.

Note, though, that *no* list will ever be truly comprehensive (indeed, if there's one place revered for its burgers, and "Best Burger" is in your list of accolades, you can be sure that one will be omitted from your database), and as soon as you open the door to write-in candidates, you're basically still checking every incoming entry against that list manually.

If you allow write-in votes, you'll also get some obvious vote-stacking from places that will try to game the system, unless you require an email address or login of some sort. SurveyMonkey and the like will *not* do this kind of functionality; You're basically in the land of a custom application here.

My suggestion would be to forgo true democracy, let your editors pick short lists of nominees in each category, fill those into a SurveyMonkey (or Google Forms) submission, and then point your readers at that. If they want to fret about their favorite place being overlooked, have *one* write-in field (not one per category) and say "what did we miss?" and then turn that into a bunch of sidebar articles.
posted by anildash at 11:12 AM on April 1, 2008

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