A few years ago we wanted to conduct a survey on a highly controversial topic, the results from which we hoped would effect a change in a California Law that was impeding an important stem cell research project. We had done our homework, too. We knew what to ask -- a list of questions that had been vetted by professional survey preparers -- and we knew who to ask, women 18-35, who had some experience with donating eggs for infertile couples. What we didn't know was how to easily locate women who matched our criteria and who would be willing to participate in our research project.
Enter Survey Monkey, an online service that matches researchers conducting opinion surveys with prequalified people willing to take them. With a variety of response validation techniques and methods to analyze results, SurveyMonkey and other companies like it are taking the opinion poll to new, more much more efficient heights.
Now, because of complex algorithms that match survey participants with researcher's objectives, what used to take hundred (or thousands) of hours to do: identifying a statistically significant survey sample size, now is as easy as a few clicks of a mouse and a monthly membership fee. With a readily identified audience, getting surveys back and verified is a far easier, faster process.
This will allow our ongoing studies into the attitudes of egg donors toward donating eggs for stem cell research not only go forward, but to be done in such a way that is will allow us to only determine the motivations of egg donors to become involved in this type of study, while also allowing us to determine a fair level of compensation for these donors.
The downside of this technology is perhaps obvious. Sites like SurveyMonkey survive because to a degree, people are willing to give up a measure of their privacy, not only actively, by filling out the survey itself, but passively, by leaving cookies (identifiers) at various sites they visit that monitor your internet habits and report back to those little algorithms, so they can find just the right target audience.
But these days, it seems privacy is more of a commodity than moral imperative, and so many users seem comfortable with that trade-off. But that's a topic for another day.