Principia's Web Survey competent for basic tasks

The move toward cutting paperwork in government and the capacity of the Internet to produce a wealth of statistical and market data may seem to be at odds. They converge, however, in the arena of online surveys and forms. Here, eliminating the paper in the process not only saves labor and trees but also cuts down on the error rate, as many agencies and departments are discovering.

A recent entrant in the market for World Wide Web-based survey software is Principia Products Inc.'s Remark Web Survey Version 1.0. Principia's main line of business has been optical mark recognition (OMR) software for reading and processing surveys, tests and other mark-sense forms. In fact, according to the company, Remark Web Survey will work seamlessly with Remark Office OMR ($449) to provide a combination of paper and Web survey tools, including analysis of results.

This first version of Remark Web Survey provides useful basic survey creation and Web publishing tools. The package, however, falls short of its competition in analyzing survey responses.

Web Survey's easy-to-use tools made it a snap to create straightforward, visually appealing surveys. The tools feature a general-purpose Form Wizard that walks users through the process from start to finish. If you want to forgo the wizard, you can use built-in tools independently to create or modify form elements.

As you create a form, you can view it in any of three windows. The first is a hierarchical tree format known as the Design view, for which I found little use in my testing. A Browser window allows viewing the finished product as it will look on the Web and appears to be a custom implementation of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (Version 4.0 or higher of Explorer is required). You also can view your form as raw Hypertext Markup Language in the Source window, but it cannot be edited.

For the most part, the design elements provided within Remark Web Survey are sufficient, if a bit elementary. Included are controls for font characteristics and styles, indents, inclusion of images and line elements, as well as Submit and Reset buttons. It was nice, however, to find a few features that were more advanced. One was the ability to easily group related questions so that their response fields appear in columns under labels that apply to the entire group. This feature was provided automatically when we checked the "Allow grouped questions" option.

We also could add hidden fields for use with preset (automated) responses, such as a questionnaire identification number.

Unfortunately, users will look in vain for features that are more advanced. That means no question libraries, custom tab order between fields, branching of questions, response validation rules and so forth.

You can open up the file in an HTML editor or text processor to use the full capabilities of that markup language or to add Java applets. You should be warned, however, that once you edit the file as HTML, you won't be able to reopen that version in Remark Web Survey.

A server component is included to assist in installing and administering Web-based surveys. This involves a pair of Common Gateway Interface scripts in Practical Extraction and Reporting Language, which provide administration and data collection capabilities on Unix and Microsoft Windows-based Web servers. (Perl Version 5.004 or later is required on the server.) These scripts must be edited minimally prior to use, principally to specify the proper paths to components.

Most Web-enabled survey design tools also provide some analysis of results, but this is where Remark Web Survey falters the most. In this package, there is only a total number of submissions and the amount of time since the survey was last accessed. At $449, Remark Office OMR reportedly adds statistical analysis, graphing and charts at a combined price roughly equivalent to most of the competition.

All this means that Remark Web Survey is no bargain, especially if you need even rudimentary response analysis. But if your agency is a user of Remark Office OMR, or you just want to use some of the easiest tools available for creating effective Web-based surveys, it is inexpensive enough to take for a spin.

-- Marshall is a free-lance writer who has been reviewing computer software for the past 10 years.

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Remark Web Survey 1.0

Principia Products Inc.

(800) 858-0860

www.principiaproducts.com

Price and Availability

Available on the open market for $349. Although it is not available on the General Services Administration schedule, Principia is offering a discounted price of $315 to government buyers.

Remarks

Remark Web Survey's survey creation tools are pleasantly competent for basic tasks and a bit more but falter when it comes to advanced features or response analysis.

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