For the past few years, I've been participating in online surveys for a couple of different organizations. One of them focuses more on business-related decisions and purchases, while the other is more consumer-centric. Some of the surveys are short and some are long; many are interesting but some are tediously boring; most of them relate to me, but a few are way off the mark. (Since I work for a construction company, I tend to get surveys asking about the purchase of tools I use in my job. I may have to hammer out a business letter when someone tries to screw us out of a payment, but it doesn't require actual hand tools.)
Why bother with them? They give rewards. I've gotten magazine subscriptions, Amazon gift certificates, and free DVD rentals (when Blockbuster was still thriving), among other things. Even so, there have been a few surveys that have had me shaking my head and wondering who is thinking up the questions.
I recently responded to a quite long one on the topic of "bathroom tissue." There were lots of questions about a wide variety of brands, most of which I have neither used or even heard of. One series of questions involved this variety of brands and asked which ones would make me want to seek out other users. Now, I'm sure that if I go to Google, I can find a chat group of "Fluffy-and-Puffy Cottony-Soft Bathroom Tissue" enthusiasts, but, really, would you want to know people who are willing to admit they are fans of some brand of toilet paper?
Another survey was about "beverages" and gave a long list of brands and varieties, asking which, if any, I had enjoyed in the past month. As it turned out, there were only coffee and a couple of brands of soda on the list that I'd had. For each variety, they presented a long list of reasons I might have for drinking that beverage. I wonder how many people responded that they drank a glass of Fresca because they wanted "to feel sexy." Or had a cup of coffee ("home-brewed, caffeinated, with milk and an artificial sweetener") so that they could feel "enlightened."
Virtually all of the surveys start out with general questions -- age, gender, location -- presumably so that they can filter out people in their sampling who do not fit the topic being covered. Every now and then, that screening seems to go haywire, as was the case recently when, after establishing that I was a 60-year-old male, I was asked a series of questions about birth control and pregnancy. It's a pretty safe bet that they were able to state from their collected data that no men in my age group are or are planning to become pregnant.
A few of the surveys end with questions about the survey itself. Was it enjoyable? Was it too long? Was it repititious? Unfortunately, the ones that I would really like to respond "This is the most idiotic collection of questions ever assembled" rarely allow for feedback. I suspect they already know.