Using Votapedia

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to be giving a presentation that will also serve as an experiment in alternate technologies for presentations. One of those technologies will be – an Australian-based, free SMS/Web audience response system. This post is meant to capture the process I went through in learning about how to use Votapedia.


Votapedia is based on Mediawiki. To create quizzes on Votapedia you need to get an authorised account. This consists of two steps:

  1. create an account;
    Using the normal mediawiki approach.
  2. get the account authorised or known.
    This is entails sending an email to a person with some blurb about what you’re using it for. I got a response in a few hours.

Participants using the service to “vote” don’t need accounts. However, those voting via the Web can create accounts to use in voting – they don’t need to.

There are limits placed on how many times participants can “vote”, but this is done on the basis of the IP address (if via the web) or their phone number (via phone).

Creating a survey

Surveys exist on their own page on the Votapedia installation of MediaWiki. You can create surveys by using some specific markup or using one of a number of “forms” which automate the process. Let’s create one.

A part of the Votapedia home page is shown in the following image. The links in the first left-hand menu are how you create surveys. There are 6 different types of surveys.

Survey type Description
Simple survey
Questionnaire This is a survey with more than one question. Wit h this type of survey you don’t need to wait for everyone to finish a question before moving on.
Quiz Essentially a questionnaire, but with other features (allocate points, can’t see the quiz page before it starts..) to allow it to be used for student assessment.
Anonymous text Participants submit whatever they want
Identified text
Rank expositions

Votapedia home page

Each link takes you to a basic HTML form that guides you in the information required to create the chosen survey. The following image is for the simple survey (click on it to see more).

Creating a simple survey on votapedia

Well, that’s not good. It didn’t work. Filled out the form, all good, hit submit and I get “There is currently no text in this page”.

So, I try to create another survey. Very simple and don’t do anything to upset the gods. Same error. Not good. Go looking and see there’s a link “My Surveys”, perhaps that might give me the link. Yep, the two surveys do show up on that page, see the following image.

My Surveys on Votapedia

Okay, if I click on the link for one of the surveys on “My Surveys” page I get a page with the same “error”. Now, there is a “Choose Number” link for each survey, maybe I need to select that first.

It appears that Votapedia has a limited set of phone numbers, choose number means selecting from that collection of numbers, one number for each response. Some are in red – which means you can’t use them – some are in green.

Trouble is that you can only chose one number at a time and it always asks for me to choose the first number. What about the others?

It would seem that I am missing something important.

Tried to create an “anonymous text” survey, same problem. There are other surveys that seem to be working….

Mmmm, now they are working. The main thing that changed was that I changed the password for my account. I don’t think that will have changed anything. Here’s the proof.

My first Votapedia quiz

Still only able to choose one phone number. Well, let’s try and start the survey. Hit the “Start survey” button….that seems to start it. The numbers are already there. Let’s try. Phone the number for my response, and hey presto it works. Engaged tone and the graph is updated in front of my eyes. That’s neat. Time to tell some other folk.

Ahh, I’ve now got an SMS from Votapedia thanking me for my vote and giving me some details to login to the website.

Now I did want to try and change the survey while it was running. I wanted to remove the results from the page and enable web voting. But it didn’t look like I could change it while the survey was running. So I’ve turned it off and will reset the survey and see if the changes work.

But of course, this was because I was viewing the survey through my account. Not what a visitor would see. Silly David.

Running a survey

Just briefly, asked a few colleagues to take the survey – all up 7 participants. The experience highlighted:

  • Getting the engaged signal when dialing the number gave the impression of failure – this needs to be made clear at the start.
  • The web interface for taking the poll suffered the same problem that I described above when creating the question.

Results looked like the following image. Interestingly, it seems at least some of the participants missed the least modifier in the question.

Results of Votapedia question


Still a bit dodgy in places via the web interface. Phone side worked well. Will need the right sort of preparation of participants.

The question of the phone numbers and how long it takes to dial a response is also an issue.

Alternative audience response systems – web, twitter and mobile phone

As part of this project I’m looking at playing with “clickers” that work via the web, twitter, mobile phones or some other medium that removes the physical limitations of traditional devices (i.e. you have to be in the room with the lecturer).

The following will be a summary and description of a growing number of systems that I come across. Suggestions more than welcome.

Poll Everywhere

Early bits of this work was based on the discovery of Poll Everywhere.

This is a commercial service with a range of plans and reminds me somewhat of the services/sites of 37Signals. But $USD400 a term seems a bit steep.

Trouble here is that it is US-based, so it’s a US number to call. It does support Twitter and the Web for voting, but I don’t think a lot of the on-campus people at my talk will be able to use those services. I don’t think Twitter or iPhone like phones have diffused sufficiently.


Votapedia is apparently a free service offered by a project within CSIRO that uses mobile phones and the web (in the form of a MediaWiki). Mobile phone usage doesn’t cost the participant as their call gets the busy signal. The original post generated some comments from a colleague at QUT with a positive experience.

This is the one I’m currently planning to use. I’ve set the wheels in motion necessary to get an account. So unless I find a better service or I can’t get Votapedia to work you’ll be hearing more about it.

Misc others

  • pollgate – twitter only?
  • twtpoll – Twitter, but only followers?
  • SMS poll – commercial SMS, includes an Australian version. Also supports web voting.
  • TextTheMob – SMS or mobile web. Includes message boards.
  • LetsGoVote – another SMS voting approach

Reports of use

Came across this post which appears to report on an experience of doing this sort of thing. It is based around the following presentation. Aspects of the context sound very familiar. The post and comments also generated some additional example systems.

It reports 7 of 30 people (about 30%) generating SMS responses. There’s a benchmark to beat.

It’s connected with this blog post with a case study.

What I’ll be using

At this stage, the plan is to use votapedia. But I have to do some more experimenting, I know have an authorized account which lets me start using it.

The advantages of votapedia, I’d suggest include:

  • It’s no cost to the students.
  • It apparently supports input by both SMS and Web.
    This will help for potential participants who aren’t in Australia. However, it looks like international folk will be able to use the SMS option.
  • It has a range of question types, including anonymous text.
    I’m keen to see how text type responses can be fed into Wordle clouds much like Andy Ramsden tried.
  • Someone at QUT has used it with good results.

Will have to play with this tomorrow.