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 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!

SharePoint as a survey collection tool

At some point in our careers, we will probably all need to create an online survey for our jobs. Often the first bet is to run to Survey Monkey or one of its brethren. Survey Monkey is a great service, but it does involve going to an outside vendor for your Survey needs. If you are lucky enough to have SharePoint as your web content management system then you are also lucky enough to be able to use its survey functionality on your public facing website. We have used it as a tool that allows us to survey our users using our SharePoint site. We were able to use the features of SharePoint with our survey solution. Finally no sending people to another URL to answer our surveys! Please note that this article is for SharePoint 2007 (MOSS).

There are quite a few configuration issues to address for this to work.  Now this posting assumes that you know what the survey feature in SharePoint is. If not – please click here – before you continue reading. That link will take you to a pretty good how-to on creating surveys in SharePoint. This post  also assumes that you are trying to put up a survey that people who are not logged in can access.

Creating your survey:

First create your survey. Perhaps on another day – I’ll create a post about the different tips and tricks when creating surveys. For example, you can set branching order, skip patterns, different question formats, and page breaks. By configuring the security settings you can allow users to come back and update their responses or allowing them to see only their responses. In most cases, you’d want to hide the responses from users.

Note: Do not use page breaks in your survey  – while this feature is great – it wreaks havoc when doing anonymous access surveys in MOSS.  Also – do not use branching logic. This feature works perfectly when users have logged in  – but it breaks down pathetically if you try it on anonymous users. To give some perspective, if there’s anything that SharePoint needs to “remember” about a user – works when a user is logged in but is unreliable if a user is using anonymous access.

Turning Anonymous Access On:

Your SharePoint site will need to have anonymous access on. Ideally if your site is public facing, you’ve already done this. If you haven’t done this – then you will want to read this article before you continue. In case you don’t know what anonymous access is – it’s a setting that allows people who are not signed into your SharePoint site to view the content. Remember that anonymous access needs to be turned on for your survey list as well.

Turning the LockDown Feature Off:

Make sure that the Lock Down Feature is turned off. The lock down feature is a setting in SharePoint that is used for public facing sites with anonymous access turned on. It prevents anonymous users from accessing any of the forms pages in SharePoint. For example – the upload new document options! However, (and this is extremely important) this feature must be turned off for anonymous surveys to work. After all, how can a user submit their answers to their survey if they aren’t allowed to submit information. You will want to talk with your SharePoint administrator about this and make sure you aren’t violating your IT security policies. Here is a good article on the Lock Down feature.

Configuring your survey permissions:

You will need to make the following changes to the settings for your survey:

1 – Under General Setting –> Title Description and Navigation

SP General settings - turn multiple responses on
SP General settings - turn multiple responses on

Make sure you have these settings:

Do not display the survey on the quick launch.

Do not show user names in the survey results. Since your submissions will be from anonymous people, there’s no reason to track this.

Now this is the most important setting here : Allow multiple responses. The multiple response restriction feature doesn’t work well for anonymous surveys.

Once this is done, click Save and let’s get started on the next settings.

2 – Under Advanced Setting –>

Advanced Settings - read and edit access
Advanced Settings - read and edit access

Set the read access to limit responses to only their own. This will hide your responses from being accessible to your registered members. If a user tries to view all responses or view graphic responses, they will be prompted to sign in.

Set the edit access for users to edit only their own. This is counterintuitive. Although you are giving them access to edit their own, since there is no username, they won’t be able to go back to any of the previous answers.  So I want to be clear: your users will not be able to resume answering their survey responses. So it’s one take to answer your survey. The plus side is that your users won’t time out since they aren’t logged in.

Finally, set your search settings to leave the survey responses out of the search results. I’m sure you wouldn’t want people searching your site and seeing search results.

3 – Under Permissions and Management –> Permissions for this Survey

Surveys Permissions Options
Surveys Permissions Options

Look at the Permissions and Management section and click on Permissions for this survey.

Anonymous access menu options
Anonymous access menu options

Under the settings,  click on Anonymous Access. From here you will be able to let users add or view items in the list. You can determine if users can only add items, edit items, view items, etc.

Anonymous survey permission options
Anonymous survey permission options

Make sure that you allow users to add items and also allow users to view items.

Final Steps :

You are almost done with your survey. I want to spell out a few things :

  1. Do not use page breaks in your survey – users will get kicked out and be unable to continue the survey.
  2. Alerts don’t work on a list when you have restricted users from viewing all results.
  3. When you are ready to view all of the results, close the survey down and then revert the permissions.

If you try to implement this, please leave a comment letting me know how this works out for you. If you want to see this in action – just leave a comment and I might be able to show you an implementation.