I am in urgent need of a sophisticated, high-powered feed reader. So I’m looking at reviews and commentary on same, when I came across this statement: “I ran a poll to find out which is the best feed reader.”
Now, don’t bother googling that; I’ve paraphrased so as not to embarass the well-intentioned author with my imminent snark, which is certainly not meant personally. But I really see this kind of thinking entirely too often, and wonder why people even waste their time. Come on, now: a poll to determine “best” product? What foolishness.
All that this kind of poll can tell the pollster is what products are commonly used – that is, which products are most popular with the users who chanced across the site’s unscientific and simplistic poll widget. That’s it.
Polls in this context are nothing more than a popularity contest. This is perfectly fine if your question is actually “what’s most popular among you who read this?” It’s a terrible idea, though, if your question is really meant to be, “what is the best?”
“Best” is subjective judgment. To give it any validity, we have to know what needs a thing must fulfill, and know how well the thing accomplishes that. Sure, we’re used to making subjective judgments every day, but at the bottom of effective decision-making – design and QA disciplines come to mind – there is always a criteria against which performance is evaluated and judged. At the end of that evaluation process, then we might be able to say what is “best” for a given purpose and set of requirements.
We need to know how the thing works relative to your needs.
A person doesn’t need to come from a structured design background to understand or utilize this process in selecting the right tools for the job. But one might do well to resist for a moment the urge to tap into the group mind for the instant gratification of a hasty opinion ping. The right first step is to ask, “what does this tool need to do for me?” and communicate that factoid to the group mind as basis for the ensuing discussion.
Then, poll or not, we might get some feedback that actually leads to “what’s right for me” – not “what’s best for them.”