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Running A Poll Online & The Facebook Wildfire App

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Having a poll on your website is no easy feature it seems.

Our local newspaper, The Guardian, used to team up with a website called Dizzyblock back before the internet was the place to be. The Guardian used to promote Dizzyblock's website and encourage people to vote on it. Then things started going wrong for Dizzyblock because the votes were becoming very unrealistically lopsided. So, The Guardian cut out the deal with Dizzyblock and lost the free advertising within The Guardian.

A couple months later, I approached The Guardian to do the same thing. The difference was my polls would be more secure. I would use both IP addresses & cookies to limit the amount of votes within the poll. This wasn't exactly fair.

Why not? Lets look at the three bigger possibilities:
1) Limit by IP: Limiting by IP address limits the amount of votes to decrease the amount of possible votes in the poll. For instance, in my house we have 1 external IP address for 8 computers or devices. With 3 people living here, it only allows 1 person to vote because the poll would limit your IP address.

2) Limiting by Cookies: Websites assign a cookie to your computer almost most of the time when you visit them. This stores bits of information on your computer containing basic information for the website in question. This allows you to visit your favorite website, say Facebook, without having to log in every time. With polls, a cookie is stored on your computer saying yes you have voted.

3) Limiting by Sessions: This is more technical but doesn't last long enough therefore it won't work. Once you close the browser, the session is destroyed. As such, it doesn't work as good as cookies.

So I approached The Guardian and said, I want to do the same thing but better. In the end, I created a poll for The Guardian and limited it by IP address & cookies. This helped keep the numbers more realistic but did limit people from being able to vote. At the end of the day, PEIinfo got free promotion in The Guardian and at the same time, The Guardian got to run their polls.

Move forward 10 years and we are now creeping on Facebook & Tweeting on Twitter. A Facebook application called Wildfire App seems to be doing pretty good and being utilized.

Then a client emailed me last week saying the voting of his poll seemed to be off. Something just didn't seem right he mentioned and asked me to look into it. I did some basic Googling to see how well the Wildfire App works. I didn't see any other comments on the subject so I decided to run my own tests.

As a result, I've found out that the Wildfire App limits the amount of votes by cookies which is easy to circumvent as all you need to do is clear out the cookies and you can vote again when you should only be able to vote once.

As such, I made this video to demonstrate how easily it is done. As such, this really limits the credibility of the Wildfire App and serious polls should not use the Wildfire App.

So whats the alternative? What do we do with polls? Polls are still a tough thing to do online and assure accuracy but here are some ideas.

The University of PEI provides all of the students a user id and password. They use this system to allow for student elections or any other things that come up that require voting. This way, every student has 1 account and can vote once.

Requiring user name and passwords in order to vote can help discourage people from trying to mess up your polls. If someone wants to vote, signing up for an account can be user unfriendly but most people will do it if there is a bigger benefit for them. Using your poll in conjunction with a Google or Facebook account can also help. This way, they don't need to sign up for a user name or password through your website. Most people will have either or Facebook or Google account.

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