A Social Hack for Online Polls

by Charles Miller on July 2, 2003

Online polls are one of the facts of life of the blogging ecosystem. There's usually one or two of them on the various blogging meme lists, and Livejournal's Meme page is usually full of them.

The way these polls work is you fill in the answers to a series of (often quite personal) questions, and after pressing the submit button you are told which Buffy character you are, what car you should drive, how long you have to live, or which fruit you should be using as a sex-aid, all provided with a cute graphic, and a snippet of HTML for you to cut/paste into your weblog or Livejournal to tell the rest of the world what some CGI script thinks about you.

Personally, I think such polls are a blight on society. If I had a lot of spare time and absolutely no morals, I'd fight back.

Step one: Create a site where people can create their own polls. This will mean a lot of the work will be done for you, and you'll benefit from the viral memes of others. Seed the site with a few somewhat raunchy tests (stealing questions from the Purity Test would work well) that are prominently linked, and then create one or two quizzes with your more quiz-using friends to spread use of the site through the network.

Obviously, the quizzes shouldn't ask what the identity is of the person who is answering them. People don't want to think their exact answers can be traced back to them, after all. They just want a funny picture for their website.

As for the funny pictures, your system should work by having people upload those graphics to the quiz server. The HTML snippet from the results page will refer to the image on the quiz server - you don't encourage the user to copy the image elsewhere. This will cost a lot of bandwidth, but it's vital for the exercise.

Six months later, open a new web-site. On the front page, people can enter a Livejournal username or blog URL, and see all the questions that person has answered, and what the answers were. Hopefully, your high-profile Purity Test quizzes will have netted quite a lot of people by now.

How's it done? Easy. Every result graphic URL, faithfully cut and pasted from the quiz site is unique, linked to the quiz that was answered. A web bug. By tracking your referrer logs it should be easy to connect the recorded quiz answers to the person on whose site the results were posted.

Did I mention I hate these quiz things?

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