Why I Don’t Like Zoomerang

Here’s an unpopular opinion. I don’t like Zoomerang. Why not? After all, it offers free surveys for starters and reasonable pricing for larger survey pools. It has a decent graphic appearance. It’s name sounds slightly more professional than the competition. The interface is easy to use. What’s not to like?

rank interface

Zoomerang provides a pretty basic level of service in an average user interface. Creating an online survey is the perfect beginner’s programming assignment. The logic is not that difficult to program. Create an input form, save the data, and summarize it in a report. My very first web programming experience was to ask my colleague Matt Sly to create a technology survey at Gateway High School. He wrote it in Perl and saved the data to text files. I learned to modify that script, then learned to write my own. A year later, I got to know the Perl CGI library. Managing web forms and creating data persistence from page to page got a whole lot easier. This year, I started to use nested associative arrays, simplifying the temporary storage of multidimensional data. Even Zoomerang’s more sophisticated features, such as branching and “cross-tab” data filtering do not involve very complicated logic.

code

Zoomerang violates the new golden rule of independent school publicity: maintain brand consistency. Marketing and publicity are becoming increasingly important as our schools become more expensive, new competitor schools appear, and our quality of service continues to increase.

forming bold learners

We want to evoke a consistent emotional response through layout, colors, photos, language, and fonts. Send your users to Zoomerang, and they are now inside Zoomerang’s marketing engine, with Zoomerang’s name, colors, user interface, and slogans. Zoomerang’s objective is to attract more users to its service. They don’t have your marketing interests in mind! We send most of our surveys to external audiences such as parents and alumni. It is critical to maintain consistent messaging and keep users within our web space when we do this.

No, thank you!

It is critical to maintain control over the organization’s data. Store dozens of surveys at Zoomerang, and you have lost control over this data. Yes, they allow you to download Excel versions of each survey, but this is no longer in relational database format, and you have to remember to perform this manual process and regularly insert the data in your own backup set.

Then there is cost. While Zoomerang is not terribly expensive ($390/yr advertised for a single-user school license), schools cannot continue to add one annual license fee after the next and keep technology and communications budgets under control. Part of maintaining an economically sustainable technology strategy is taking services in-house when you have the capability to absorb them. Though this requires staff time, we generally come out far ahead for each service that we strategically choose to migrate in-house.

You would think that the open-source world would have come up with a gold standard for survey software, much like it has for course management, blog, and social networking. Perhaps the popularity of Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey have prevented this from happening. Perhaps other web site developers are also writing their own survey tools. Or perhaps survey tools are more often embedded within other content management systems such as Drupal and Mambo. Whatever the reason, my search found a lot of simple survey scripts, most of which only allowed for multiple-choice question formats. The one more capable (and popular) solution is PHP Surveyor. It provides multiple question types, statistical analysis, branching, and other desirable features. However, the graphic design and user interface were not to the same high standard. Since we would like to allow multiple people to administer surveys, this nixes PHP Surveyor for us.

surveyor

After exhausting the commercial and free alternatives, I decided to write my own. As usual, I will be happy to share it with interested parties, though it is definitely written just for Catlin Gabel and not meant to be instantly generalizable to other contexts. Also know that I prefer to write in Perl, not PHP! I will only release it under a “share-alike” license, so that you may (and I hope will) release improved versions freely to the world but not use the code for proprietary or for-profit purposes. Here are some screen shots of work in progress.

survey

admin

I would love to know how you have decided to meet your survey needs, whether through commercial, open-source, or home-grown means.

11 comments

  1. Amy Millard says:

    Hi Richard-
    Any user who uses the "paid" version of Zoomerang can remove the branding and put in their own. We encourage this as good marketing practice (as you noted)and it’s easily done with a signle click. Our education pricing is $350 for teachers, $39 for students.

    Feel free to email me any time!
    Amy.millard@markettools.com
    VP Marketing Zoomerang.

    p.s. Not sure which Gateway High School you worked with, but we actually sponsor Gateway High School in San Francisco. They are a terrific school, making a real impact in the community.

  2. rkassissieh says:

    Thank you for the response. How much of the graphic template is editable? What is your pricing for a multi-user or site license?

    Yes, it is the same Gateway. Thank you for sposoring them!

    Richard

  3. Alex Ragone says:

    Richard,

    We just moved to SurveyMonkey because they allow multi-user use of the same username and password. We looked at a number of open source options, but didn’t find any good ones. I’ve forwarded this post to my network and db admins and hopefully they’ll be interested in helping with your script.

    Cheers, – Alex

  4. Amy Millard says:

    Richard- The graphic template is completely at user discretion. You can upload video, jpegs, any image you want by question nd also on the lasst page of the survey (typically called the "thank you" page)

    For site licenses, we offer non-profits and educational institutions fairly aggressive volume pricing (we don’t post it, but it’s really discounted. We have volume discoutn plans, all sorts of programs directed at education institutions. We also have free education survey templates to get schools started.

    For security, we also offer the option to use https.

    Hope this turns your perspective around – we really are the only survey company that really tries to help educators.

    Regards,
    Amy Millard
    amy.millard@markettols.com

  5. rkassissieh says:

    These are great features, and I support other schools using Zoomerang if that is the best option available to them. I want more than the option to upload our images into a online survey. I want the complete graphic and interactive treatment, including links and dynamic sidebar content. My perspective is that I think schools should rely on their own resources, maintain control over their data, and present a consistent user web site experience. While you have a fine product, I see advantages to meeting survey needs internally with our own, home-grown solution, and it hasn’t been that hard to build, as interactive web sites go.

  6. Ken Robinson says:

    Richard,

    Amy has outlined a few of the features and benefits of Zoomerang zPro, but I am a firm believer in the proverb, "a picture is worth a thousand words." I would welcome the opportunity to take you for a test drive of our full-featured product. Drop me a note if you have a few minutes to take a deeper dive.

    Best, Ken

  7. rkassissieh says:

    Thank you for the offer, Ken. Our one registered user has shown me the admin interface before, and I have taken public surveys before. Ownership of data, self-reliance, and a fully interactive school template are my priorities. These do not seem consistent with a hosted survey solution. So, thanks, but I’ll pass for now.

  8. Shawn Beattie says:

    Virginia Tech’s Survey, which is Open Source, has served our needs for several years now. It is ridiculously easy to use. However, it also lacks advanced features and, while open source, development seems to have dead-ended. We are now in the same boat. I am surprised a robust, full-featured Open Source solution has not thrived. phpESP and PHPSurveyor are potentials, but are not as polished and robust as the commercial, hosted options from what I’ve seen.

  9. rkassissieh says:

    My article got reviewed here http://www.marketresearchte

  10. Rob Glickman says:

    Hi – Just had a read of your post and the comments. I know head up Zoomerang.com and wanted to let you know that Zoomerang has just launched a new price point of only $19 / month for Pro or $149 / year. – check it out!

  11. Richard says:

    Thanks for the post, Rob. Price is not the issue for a customer like me. Branding and user management top the list.

    Richard