Feedback Server Tip: Simplifying looping through multiple questions in a survey

Earlier this year, we decided to embrace Feedback Server. The more I learn about this survey software, the more I like it. Like all technology ( and content management systems) the true power of the tool lies in the ability of the end user to manipulate it to meet their needs.

I’ve never been a fan of asking a user to loop through a series of questionss based on previous responses, because it gets very easy to lose your place within the questions. Further more, the more you loop, the infinitely larger your number of potential responses – which means that your data export will have a ridiculous number of variables.

Our initial approach

Because you don’t want users to move backwards in a survey, we simply duplicated the questions on different pages and changed the text slightly so it referenced their place in the logic. By using branching logic, we were able to push people to the page that displayed the same set of questions the right number of times. This allowed for looping through the questions. I had some down time today and decided to think through a cleaner way for users to navigate through sets of questions that have nested loops,without creating such complex page structures. After all, this approach requires that you create excessive numbers of questions.

I should also illustrate, this solution is designed to support survey questions like this:

1 – please check each option that refers to you

2 – for each option that you checked, please provide the following 4 pieces of information.

A cleaner solution

This solution requires 2 things :

A question type : Text Box Entry Fields

Building a custom answer type

In this solution, instead of using multiple pages to loop through the same questions, we will use one question and repeatable grids to allow the user to keep entering information as needed. Please note that this solution does not copy and paste your previous answers to define how the next question behaves. This means that some slight modifications will need to be made to your survey questions to use this. That being said, this will result in fewer pages, less clicks for your user, and a survey that’s easier to follow because it won’t have to jump from question to question.

Text Box Entry Fields

Select New Question and choose Textbox Entry Field (Small) – or use Comment Field Large if you want paragraphs of text. The nice thing about this question type  is that you can define multiple responses for a single question. You can also define multiple answer types within a single question.

Choosing your question type

Click Create Question

Now you can enter the text / instructions for your question. Once you have done that, select a text answer label for each text field you want to be able to repeat as needed.

Choose answer options for your grid

If you have something that you want to repeat over and over, you can use a custom answer type to do that. For example, instead of saying – for each box you checked in question one, answer this set. You can use the repeatable grid and add your custom answer type which provides all of those check box options from the first question.

To create a custom answer type:

Go to designer, then Answer Type Editor

You can create your own answer type here

Click on Click here to create a new type

You can now select the type you want. You can do a drop down or radio buttons. Please note that I’ve selected List Items under data source because I’m going to enter the list options manually.

Your answer format

Add your responses to the Item Collection Editor and hit Apply Changes

Configuring your question to use your answer type

Now that you have your additional answer type, you are going to combine your text field answer options with the new drop down items you have selected. You are going to set your question to allow someone to go to a question, fill out several fields, and then choose a drop down option as well . To be clear, here’s an example :

Q1 -Please tell us about the fruit you buy

– Name of fruit

– How you check it for freshness ( 3 drop down list options )

They will have the option to add as many fruit as you want. For each one, they will have to enter the name of the fruit and select a drop down option.

By now your question should be created.

Click on your question and scroll tot he bottom to Add Edit Answers

Click on Add/Edit Answers

Click on Add New Answer. You are going to be adding the new answer type that you defined.

Add your custom answer type

Answer Text – this is the label for your custom drop down

Type: Use that drop down to select the custom answer type you wanted

Click Add

Go back to your question and click on sections

This is where you allow multiple answers

For Repeat Mode –  Select Full Answers Repeat

Choose the maximum number of repeats you want

Hit Update

Under the Display layout tab, you can determine if you want a vertical set of responses, or if you want them to show horizontally. Please note that with a full grid repeat, after the first response, the previous responses will be shown in a horizontal grid.

Selecting how to display your options
Here's an example of what it looks like

If you look at the question above. Instead of creating branching logic to take someone down a path, making them choose how many responses they want to give and then creating pages for them to enter the information; we have pretty much allowed someone to stay on the same question, enter whatever information they want, and keep adding responses. For the end user this is a lot cleaner because it’s blatantly clear as to what question they are still on. They can view their previous responses and add/edit them as needed.

As a last note – if you wanted to prevent someone from choosing your custom answer option more than once, you simply go to edit that answer, click on entry validation and choose Forbid duplicate answers.

Preventing Duplicates

As we work on things, we’re always looking for ways to make an interface cleaner for an end user. This approach definitely reduces the user burden by reducing the number of pages required to collect multiple responses for similar questions.

Mac OS X Tip – Save To Folder Path

It is sometimes frustrating having to navigate through Mac OS folders in Finders especially if you know exactly what folder to go to. The simplicity of the Mac OS X interface sometimes takes away some conveniences enjoyed by power users. In Windows I often save a file to a desired location by doing a “File Save As”, then pasting the full path of the save-to folder location to avoid having to browse for the folder.

I will show at the end of this post how to do the same in Mac OS X, a feature I found by searching the web. But first, I will show how to get folder paths in Mac OS X and quickly navigate in Finder using these paths. Folder paths if Finder are disabled by default.

Quick Folder Navigation in Finder
Step 1.

To show folder paths in Finder, open Finder and select View > Show Path Bar

The folder path is now displayed at the bottom of your Finder window.

You can navigate to specific folders within this path simply by clicking on the folder name at the bottom of the Finder window.

Step 2.

To get the full path of a folder, simply right click on the folder within Finder (or Control + Left Click), and select Get Info

Step 3.

Once the Get Info window opens up, highlight the folder path and copy it either by doing a Command + C, right clicking and selecting Copy, or Control + Left Click (so many options, I know…but I am sure you are familiar with one or more of them 🙂 )

Step 4.

With the folder path copied in your clipboard, have a Finder window open and use Command + Shift + G to bring up the “Go to the folder:” window. Paste in your folder path and click Go or hit Enter to navigate to your desired location.

File Save as to File Path

To save a file to a desired location, I often would have to navigate through folders in Finder to my desired save to location. This is a tedious process when dealing with multiple files or saving to a sub folder in an obscure location.

Step 1.

After selecting File > Save As from whatever application you are using, a Finder window pops up. This often has your last save to location, which may not be the location you want to save the file to.

With this window open, do a Command + Shift + G, which will bring up the “Go to the folder:” window.

Step 2.

Paste in your folder path and click Go or hit Enter to navigate to your desired location.

You will now be at your desired save to location allowing you to save the file without having to painstakingly navigate from one folder to the next.

I hope this is helpful to my fellow Mac users. Thanks!

How-To for new installations of the FaceBook Connection on VBulletin

This is a fix for an error code that you may see while trying to integrate FaceBook connection in Vbulletin. This fix addresses this error code when trying to use FaceBook connect in Vbulletin:

API Error Code: 100
API Error Description: Invalid parameter
Error Message: next is not owned by the application.

First I will start by saying this I did this on VBulletin 4.07. This may be applicable to previous versions of VBulletin – but I just haven’t tested it. I was really frustrated because after upgrading VBulletin – I saw this awesome FaceBook button. Everyone said it was easy – simply install it – put a few links in place and you will be good to go. It’s really not as intuitive so I decided to post a how-to here.

Before you start – get a FaceBook account!

Once you have a FaceBook account go here : http://www.facebook.com/developers/

Create a new application

You will need 2 codes for your application : the FaceBook application ID and the FaceBook Secret. Save these in notepad somewhere. As soon as you create the application you will get the two codes.

Step 1 – Upgrade your Vbulletin

Step 2 – Go into your VBulletin Admin Control Panel

Step 3 – Click on Options under settings

Click Options

Step 4 – on the right, Click on FaceBook Options

Click Facebook Options

Step 5 – Enter the Application ID and the FaceBook Secret Code that you saved in notepad

Step 6 – Fill out the rest of the fields. They are fairly intuitive – and most of what you enter won’t affect the outcome of this article.

Now you are NOT done! You need to go BACK to FaceBook and make some changes to your application. This is where I met my first point of frustration with this solution. If you have been reading articles that say – just enter your post authorize URL and have NO idea what that means – this is what they are talking about :

Step 7 – Go to http://www.facebook.com/developers/

Step 8 – Select your application – it will be listed under My applications to the right

Click My Applications

Step 9 – Click on your application name

Step 10 – Click on edit settings

Click Edit Settings

Step 11 – Fill out the basic information. You can also upload an icon and a logo for your application. Make sure that you have a page with your privacy statement, you will be asked to link to it on this page.

Click Basic Information

Step 12 – Click on the Website tab on the left

Click Website

Step 13 – You will need to enter the site URL and the site domain. This is the crucial step that makes your integration possible.

Enter Site URL to activate your Facebook Connection

Once you have done this – your FaceBook integration on your forums should be activated.

After spending half a day trying to google the answer to this and always coming up on one-sentence answers on forum postings, I figured this little frustration deserved a proper step by step how-to.

MS Office Live Workspace : Free Collaboration Tools

Office Live Logo
MS Office Live Workpaces - free online collaboration

Peter and I take a very methodical approach to our common goals. I was toying with the idea of finding a free SharePoint service out there – when I ran into a free Microsoft service called Microsoft Office Live Workspaces. It was free and all I needed was a windows live account and I could have a space. Well I should add one caveat – you also need to have Internet Explorer to use it! Oh and there was the requirement of having the Silverlight plug-in installed. OK – so after I got through all of the hooplah– I’m still thinking that this is pretty cool.

Here are some useful specs (the good stuff ):

  • Task lists
  • Shared calendars
  • MS Office ( Word, PowerPoint, and Excel)
  • MS Office integration
  • Contact lists
  • Multiple workspaces
  • Permissions (only site level – not item level)
  • Desktop sharing
  • Folders
  • Lists
  • Notes
  • Version control on documents
  • Allows comments on documents / etc
  • Allows sharing of documents
  • 5 gb of storage space
  • Light-weight email notifications
  • Does allow for customization of lists

Here are some limitations

  • No item level permissions
  • Not a strong task management solution
  • No workflows
  • Requires internet explorer
  • Works best when you own Microsoft office
  • Requires several plugins
  • Content Management is very light-weight

All in all – for a free solution – this is a good tool to use. I’ll definitely be using it for small personal projects. It’s a place to dump your files, share task lists, share calendars, etc. It’s god because it allows you to create unlimited numbers of workspaces and to apply permissions accordingly. The interface is also much cleaner with a Web 2.0’ish feel. Microsoft might be onto something with this freebie SharePoint-like wannabe.

If you want to try it out – http://workspace.officelive.com

Finally Beat Fieldrunners on the Frostbite Level

Fieldrunner is possibly the most popular tower game available for phones. I think it’s played mostly on iPhones and iPod Touches. I’ve been playing it on my iPod Touch for the last few months. Once i beat the main 3 levels, I bought the other two levels. I was absolutely frustrated with the Frostbite level because for some reason those helicopters simply wouldn’t stop running over my towers. I finally beat the level and was able to push it to level 135.

Field Runner Frost Bite Level 100
Field Runner Frost Bite Level 100

The secret to this map is to use the ice towers heavily. You should use them between every 5 – 6 towers and upgrade them fully. Although rockets are great for helicopters, in this case, the lightning towers are your friends. I basically wrapped the center of the map in electric towers and ice towers. You can use the gun towers to build the longest possible route to the entrance. I’ve also had a lot of success with making sure that the only entrance to the goals was on the left. The screenshot below is my configuration and what level 100 looked like:

I did try to do some upgrades to see how far I could keep this going but I lost at level 135. The screenshot below is a screenshot of my configuration for the final levels. I should have taken a screenshot at 135, but here’s the one I did at 131. I still had the same configuration at 135. I did try to use the fire towers, but frankly speaking – I don’t think they are effective on this map.

Fieldrunners Frostbite Level 131
Fieldrunners Frostbite Level 131

Network Setup for UMA Calling

After getting the Blackberry Bold 2 (9700) on T-Mobile I was anxious to try out the UMA voice feature. My WIFI network at the house consists of apple devices, the airport extreme and express. After struggling to get a UMA connection working on my existing network, I found out from several web postings that there are compatibility issues between apple wireless network devices and UMA connections. There could be a solution as of this blog post but I gave up looking for one.

I also found out that T-Mobile was giving away a D-Link wireless router model # TM-G240 at their stores for 1 cent. This router is one of their recommended devices for UMA calling. I picked one up and tried to figure out how to integrate it into our home network.

Our home network consists of dual WAN connections, a DSL line and a Cable line. We have this set up for redundancy and load balancing. I use a Xincom dual WAN router to take in both the DSL and Cable connections and feed the local network consisting of a mix of wired and wireless devices.

Here is a scratch diagram of the current network setup. (I apologize, I do not have MS Visio or any other tools to create visually appealing diagrams at the time of this post)

Current Network Setup

Current Network Setup
Current Network Setup

I tried creating a separate wireless network with the new D-Link router from T-Mobile within my LAN but was still not able to establish a UMA connection. I was able to connect to the Blackberry Infrastructure and the device showed a UMA network was available however not connected. The following error code was displayed.

W006.1 – ISP or T-Mobile network error.

To view the UMA connection status, perform the following steps on your bold 2 device

Manage Connections > Wi-FI Options > Select Connection > Wi-Fi Tools > WI-Fi Diagnosis

A quick search on Google showed what the different error codes mean.
http://www.blackberryfaq.com/index.php/Wifi_/_UMA_Error_Codes

I knew that the likely culprit would be my IPSec settings on my gateway device, the Xincom router. If you have ever tried changing settings on this device you know how complicated it can get and there is not much manufacturer or forum support out there. It is a very robust device though. I tried making a few changes to no avail and did not want to change additional settings and break something else so I considered an alternate way of connecting the D-Link router and still maintain dual WAN connectivity for most of my network.

I moved the D-Link router from behind the Xicom device to right after the DSL modem and used the D-Link to establish the PPPOE connection, provide a secondary Wi-Fi connection and provide a LAN IP address which serves as the main IP for the secondary WAN connection on the Xincom device. Using this set up, the Blackberry devices with UMA can connect to the new Wi-Fi network and by being directly connected to the internet, the D-Link wireless router was then able to allow UMA calling.

Having successfully set up the UMA calling with a router connected to the internet, I begun to question the apple wireless compatibility issues. When I get time I will try and connect the both the apple devices directly to the internet, bypassing the Xincom router and see if that set up works.

New Network Setup

New Network Setup
New Network Setup

Blackberry UMA International Calling

I figured the trip to South Africa would be a good test of UMA calling on the blackberry in an international setting. I set up a wireless network connected to a DSL 256/512 connection. As soon as I connected to the WiFI network with the blackberry the UMA symbol popped up.

I disabled the carrier wireless network just to be certain that I would not be roaming and made a few test calls on UMA. The call quality was surprisingly good. I made a few changes enabling Quality of Service for the UMA ports – TCP 500 and 4500. I selected this ports per this RIM document
http://www.blackberry.com/btsc/search.do?cmd=displayKC&docType=kc&externalId=KB13922

I am not sure if the QOS settings will make a difference or not.

Since South Africa is currently 7 hours ahead of the US, internet speeds are decent when the US is asleep. As soon as the US wakes up, the internet speed slows down significantly. The UMA voice quality also degrades when US internet usage begins in the morning US hours.

So far I am very satisfied with the service. I did make a mistake and pay the $9.99 with T-Mobile for UMA / WiFi calling when I did not need to. I am on the unlimited voice plan so using UMA voice has no affect on my minutes used. The $9.99 add-on is only for people with restricted minute plans, who want to use UMA / WiFi calling without burning the minutes on their plan.

Feedback Server: A potential survey tool (possibly in SharePoint too?)

Feedback Server
Feedback Server

I’ve been tasked with finding a survey solution. Now before I get started, I will acknowledge that I posted a lengthy post about how you can use SharePoint as a survey collection tool. This is true, but sometimes your needs can go beyond what SharePoint does. I was looking for a .NET based survey solution that can be used easily and still has hope for being integrated cleanly into SharePoint. In my search, what I found was the Feedback Server. I also want to add another caveat – I haven’t deployed this solution yet so I can only go by what the brochures say!

Sometimes you don’t want to go with a 3rd party hosted solution for a corporate product. My main concern is when we have security requirements. I don’t like the idea of going to a 3rd party for stuff like that. In my search, I came across the Feedback Server – and here’s what they describe:

Feedback Server is an asp.net web based survey software and form builder to manage and deploy without any technical knowledge web based surveys across your organization to gather important feedback from your customers, employees, students or website visitors and let you to analyze the collected data.

In addition to a ton of features, there is a SharePoint connector for it. Click here for that. In a nutshell this provides:

The Sharepoint 2007 extension enables you to integrate the power of Feedback Server’s survey and form management tools within your Sharepoint portal pages and web parts.

To highlight some of the cooler features:

  1. It’s skinnable
  2. It has full permissions control – for example even limiting access by IP address.
  3. It has that SharePoint connector
  4. It uses AJAX
  5. It has built in email reminder systems
  6. It  has solid reporting
  7. It can export reports in excel and SPSS format
  8. It uses CAPTCHA
  9. It has an integrated analysis tool
  10. It uses XML to import and export surveys
  11. It has a SDK for custom integration

I’m just saying…… this seems cool!

Roaming internationally with T-mobile BES with a blackberry 9700

I had to post something about this because I have had a field day with T-mobile’s tech support regarding my blackberry. First, I was lured in by the great priced plans that T-mobile has. And just to give some perspective… I’m paying half of what ATT charged me per month, I qualified for 0% interest financing on 2 new blackberries, and get this…. I don’t have a contract. I’ve got the unlimited blackberry data plan and I’m loving it.

Now for the ugly part. T-mobile’s customer support rocks, but their reps are very hit or miss. When I signed up, I made it clear I needed corporate email. The sales person set up BIS instead of BES on my line. Fine… no problem…. after fighting with enterprise activation for a day, I finally called T-mobile and asked if the issue was that my account wasn’t provisioned. Sure enough – that was the case. The rep told me that it would take up to 48 hours for my account to be provisioned. Please note that my activation took just a day later- so I was happy.  Since Peter and I were taking a trip to Cancun, I wanted to make sure that I could have my email while roaming. I called them up and set up the $19.99 a month addition to let you get your data internationally.

I get to Cancun and I have ZERO connectivity. After furiously trying to switch networks, I got on the T-mobile chat to talk to a rep. Lo and behold she mentions that … yes you have data, but your line hasn’t been provisioned to roam internationally. Imagine that! Anyway, long story short… she went ahead and provisioned my account to get international data. So problem solved right? NOPE – this created a new problem. Now I couldn’t surf the web, my blackberry app world didn’t work, and my facebook App wasn’t working either!

So here I am back in the US, on chat AGAIN with T-mobile. After the rep takes me through a sequence of steps (rebooting my phone, taking out sim cards, taking out batteries), he finally gets it all working.  He also lets me know that whenever I travel internationally this problem  is possible .

Just FYI – here’s the fix :

1 – Take your battery + sim card out

2 – Give your IMIE and Pin to the tech support

3 – They will push down updates and new service books

4 – Power your phone back up and pray

5 – Repeat if it doesn’t take the first time.

Needless to say they got it fixed, and their tech support is great. But frankly speaking, my new blackberry has been anything but plug and play ! T-mobile really needs to work on the default settings for accounts, because it’s just not practical to have to keep going back to tech support because features keep randomly turning off.

I’ve installed VBulletin Publishing Suite 4.0

So although I seem to be an all SharePoint person – that’s just not true. I’m also a php person. I have a vbulletin forum that I’ve been dying to upgrade to the new vbulletin publishing suite. I waited until the alpha tests were done and now have installed the beta version. This is going to completely blow away the idea of just a forum since it now includes:

Forums
A content management system
Blogs
Better social networking features

So far the installation was a bit tricky. None of the legacy plugins, products, themes, etc work. So right now – I have a plain vanilla site 🙂 I’ll be posting more once I have more to share.