Open Source Software

Meredith has provided a good summary or open source applications, and several good reasons for using open source software options. She promises to share future reviews of open source products:

Anyways, I’m getting off my soapbox now. I just hate to think that I am holding onto information that might be useful to my readers (or my Dad). So next time I download something great, I’ll be sure to mention it. Just know that if you’re using something expensive, clunky, or difficult to use, do check to see if there isn’t some better out there that was created by people who were just as annoyed with the proprietary options as you are.

One program that I have found particularly useful is an open source survey application called phpESP. phpESP is a web-based survey application that you install on your web server. It requires Apache, php, and MySQL, but if you are running a blog (or a web server for that matter) you already have all the necessary ingredients.

The software allows you to create surveys through a relatively easy to use web interface and has a number of answer options: yes/no, multiple choice, check-box selections, text and essay boxes, and even numerical rankings. There are several default templates that you can use to change the appearance, and if you know CSS, you can add your own. You can even make some questions optional or others required. Data from the survey is stored on the server and can be viewed through the web interface, or it can be downloaded as CSV for further manipulation in Excel.

I have been using the software for several purposes. Obviously, we have been conducting surveys of library users in order get an idea of how to better serve them. I have also been using the surveys as an assessment mechanism after I deliver a library instruction session. Finally, we plan on using the survey as a pre- and post-test tool for our freshman instruction program.

Overall, the software works great for surveys, and the price is right. Granted, there are quite a few fancier options out there, but for a tool that helps you ask questions and get answers from your users, this does the job. My only advice is this: be careful what you ask, because your users will give you honest answers and will definitely let you know what they think.