New Survey Form–Many Improvements

This morning we launched a new survey form that eliminates a big longstanding weakness of the site and adds some major features members have been asking for. We’ve wanted to do it for literally years, but other projects and crises kept getting in the way. So we’re very happy to finally have the new form out the door.

In the beginning, TrueDelta had only the Car Reliability Survey. Focused on gathering data for our car reliability statistics, this survey form asked only the questions we needed answers to for the stats, and it only asked about repairs up to a year old and since the member joined.

Many members wanted to enter and maintain a complete record for their car, since they first got it. They wanted to enter repairs over a year in the past, and from before they joined the site. Some wanted to enter scheduled maintenance as well as repairs. Some wanted to enter additional information, such as the name of the repair shop or costs itemized by repair and parts vs. labor.

At the time I could not figure out how to provide all of this additional functionality without making the regular survey form too much more confusing and complicated. It didn’t help that my programming skills were minimal. So instead of adding this functionality through the regular survey form, I created a second Repair History form focused on personal record keeping and without the questions we needed only for the purposes of our error checking and statistical analysis.

This simplified the tasks of creating the form and using it to maintain a car’s complete repair and maintenance record, but has been the source of much confusion. While we merged both sets of entries on the site’s car problems pages, we kept them separate in members’ personal records. People would look for records entered using one form under the menu for the other form, find nothing there, and think data had been lost. Or they’d enter a new repair using the Repair History form when this information needed to be entered through the Car Reliability Survey. (Each quarter I’ve checked for such entries and copied them over to the reliability table.) I’m sure many people were confused by the presence of both “Reliability” and “Repair History” menus in My Garage. Most of all, though, it was cumbersome to have to log the same repair twice (even if most of the work was done by clicking an “import into repair history” link) and the great majority of members probably didn’t even realize that the second form existed. So few people who would have liked to maintain a complete record were actually doing so.

This morning this mess I created a decade ago is finally gone, thanks to Gayla’s far superior programming skills and a lot of hard work. There is a new mess, a few thousand duplicate entries in the merged data table, but I’ll take care of these over the next few months. They will not affect the reliability stats. There are also a few loose ends to take care of, such as duplicate menus in My Garage, but like the duplicate entries these should be taken care of soon.

What this means: it’s now much easier and much less confusing to maintain a complete repair and maintenance record of your car on TrueDelta.

But wait, there’s more…

For quite some time members have been asking for the ability to edit past Car Reliability Survey entries. Providing this was much more complicated than it might seem, since to ensure the quality of our reliability stats I’d have to track and review all changes for errors. Well, the new system allows editing.

Likely of even greater benefit, the new form saves partial entries as drafts. If you run into a problem while filling out the survey, or find you don’t have all of the information you need, or simply run out of time, you no longer need to start from scratch later. Any pages of information previously entered will now be accessible as an incomplete “draft” response. If you end up with duplicate incomplete responses, these can be deleted.

Yes, “pages,” the plural. The number of questions that need to be answered for the Car Reliability Survey has not changed. But to enable the additional functionality (with additional optional fields) these questions are now spread over a larger number of shorter pages. Clicking from page to page is the only additional work with the new form. It’s a tradeoff we wrestled with for a very long time, but we think the advantages of the new form are well worth the additional clicking.

This is just the initial iteration. We’ll be making changes and improvements based on feedback from members. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!