Web survey software was developed with the expansion of the Internet. This development can be divided into four phases, which we already listed.
Certain technical dilemmas appeared at the very beginning of web survey software development:
- The questionnaire can be created either offline (at the subscriber) or online (on the Web). At first, questionnaires were mainly created offline because that was the only viable option due to slow Internet connections. After the questionnaire was finished, the survey was created, uploaded on the Web and then activated. At the end of the 1990s, solutions that offered direct online questionnaire development appeared. The advantage of such solutions is that the user does not have to install anything locally. On the other hand, it is relatively difficult and time consuming to create very long and very complex questionnaires directly online, despite the establishment of Web 2.0. Despite the technological advancements, almost all professional programming code (which is required for complex questionnaires) is developed offline, then synchronized (if there are multiple programmers), compiled and activated on the Web. That is one of the key unsolved questions of web survey software, as online solutions – despite their user friendliness and ease of use – do not enable efficiency when considering complex questionnaires.
- The choice of programming language. In this area PHP is highly prevalent, although many dot net and specialized language (e.g. Python) alternatives exist. An important characteristic of software is the open source format.
Web survey software can be observed according to different types of questionnaires:
- Polls are surveys with only a single question. They can be found on almost every web page. Such surveys do not require any complex programming, only user friendly graphical display of results. On the other hand this solution is not all that simple because integration into the client’s web page is of key importance. Complete integration is complex and is offered by only a few solutions.
- Forms are surveys that usually span a single page and are used for registration, sign-up, etc. These surveys are also not complex or demanding. The biggest challenge of forms is user friendliness because the interface must enable sufficient flexibility for the user when creating questions and customizing the layout. It is also not trivial for the software to offer prompt notifications about completed forms because spam filters are becoming stricter.
- Surveys are the main web data collection method. One of the key dilemmas is how to offer a user friendly and efficient system to create conditions and blocks, which is of critical importance in the case of extensive surveys. Web survey software differs greatly in this area, from the most simple to the most complex:
- Tools for relatively simple surveys that (not necessarily) offer relatively simple conditions and limited functionality when dealing with a large amount of surveys and editors.
- Advanced tools that support large organisations and enable advanced survey creation, where numerous of surveys are carried out simultaneously and multiple editors are present (including hierarchy). All of this demands additional solutions for management, monitoring and archiving. Advanced tools are even more complex due to demands for integration with other survey modes (e.g. telephone survey), panel support, and integration with user needs (e.g. web statistical analyses, human resource management, marketing, etc.).