The trouble with a job where you serve 35 masters is that each master thinks their priorities are more important than everybody else’s. My task list is carefully prioritized in a queue that stretches out approximately two years into the future (and you wondered why the J-School homepage looks as stylistically embarrassing today as it did the day I started).

Some needs are long term, while others are urgent/sudden, come out of nowhere, and have to trump other tasks in the queue. Case in point: A recent request from the Admissions dept to put a database-backed survey online for our alumni. Dozens of questions in mixed input types, thousands of respondents expected, immediate result tabulation required.

Oh, and I had 48 hours to get it online. Knew I wouldn’t be building this one from scratch. Surfed around and found dozens of survey systems, but it seemed like all the really good ones were in the $200-$300 range. I don’t have that kind of money to spend. I don’t have any money to spend. It had to be free.

The tedious part of making this sort of selection is that you have to spend real time with a system before you understand it well enough to reject or accept it. And you have to be confident enough in its longevity that you want to deploy it long-term (so you don’t end up with mixed CMSs, or mixed survey systems, etc.)

Finally landed phpESP via SourceForge. Its back-end is a bit finicky (not to mention ugly), but it’s very flexible and powerful. Mix essay questions with multiple choice, radio, combo, text field answers. Single page or multi-page. CSS-based styling. No limits. Very core. So good, in fact, now I’m considering replacing my home-brew quiz system with ESP. eWeek reviews ESP.

Once again, the hard work of total strangers saves the day.

Music: Bob Dylan & The Band :: Going, Going, Gone

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