August 31st, 2007 by Jared Bothwell
After seeing that Lime Survey (formerly PHPSurveyor) have released an upgraded version of their open source survey software I thought I would give it a whirl and see how it runs. Before I get started I should divulge that I do have a vested interest in survey software. Rock Research is a uSuite partner and as such actively promote the uSuite solution. All the same I keep an active interest in the development of survey technology and am always on the look out for something new and interesting and have tried as best as I can to approach Lime Survey with an open mind.
I also like free stuff and am pretty familiar with a number of open source projects and having played around with the following, SugarCRM, PHPFilenavigator, WordPress , Silverstripe I do have something to compare Lime Survey with.
The installation process while being straight forward requires a certain amount of technical nous. Lime Survey requires you to set up your own database and make the required personal adjustments directly into the config.php file. This could be a bit off-putting for some and I would imagine that the dropout rate would be quite high at this stage as even I was second guessing my own enthusiasm at this stage. I found the directions in the manual a bit confusing and it was easier to follow the instructions in the actual config.php file. I found to my relief there are really only a few minor changes to the file. Once these were made it is a simple process to upload via FTP the folders onto your server. Lime Survey weighs in at 20mb so the upload process can take some time depending on your connection speed.
I was relieved to find that the installation process worked fine the first time, so in all a pretty speedy configuration and installation process completed in 30 mins.
Lime Survey comes with a manual, but who wants to look at a manual? In my mind the true test of any software is whether you can use it without the manual and I made this my aim. Alas, I got stuck pretty much straight away. The interface is a little weird and the language a little strange.
It was not straight forward and it was not easy (but then maybe I am just spoilt as I love the survey software I already use).
Yet in a macabre way I kind of liked it. I liked it for the same reason why I prefer to play Submarine simulator computer games as opposed to racing car games. It is a fairly technical programme and a challenge to learn. This would get tiring over time though and not everyone enjoys a steep learning curve.
If you want to produce a survey ‘quickly’ I would not recommend Lime Survey. But if you have the time, patience and inclination it could be worth a try.
Adding questions to the survey proved a little less straight forward as I eventually found out that questions are built within ‘groups’. Also the survey that I built has one question per page, but this may just be a demonstration of my lack of knowledge.
One thing to be wary of is you have to be 100% sure about your survey before you activate it. As is detailed in the image below very few changes can be made to the survey. This is obviously a pretty severe limitation because as most people that have built surveys would know as much as you can test a survey before releasing the only way to know for sure how it will work is once it goes live. The survey programs that I work with allows for changes very easily.
So in conclusion, Lime Survey is not an enterprise level survey tool. It has some useful functionality and with some time, inclination and some enthusiasm Lime Survey will build you an OK survey. It also has some features that do not come with some of the more well known online survey tools.
Once all the results are in, I’ll publish the results. Please feel free to leave any comments regarding the survey after completion.