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Enough already

The hottest trend is online polls from the silly to the serious. Readers like them, but researchers wish they'd go away.
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Lost eagerness

The excitement over the Internet is over. What can online newspapers get excited about next?
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Newspapers online are investing in digital recorders to add sound bites to their stories. Here, UF graduate student Amy Zerba records the sounds of a community in Seine Bight, Belize. The audio will eventually be added to the website, www.internationaljournalism.com
the stories
Research experts could do without polls

Would you drink upside down at a bar in Gainesville to impress someone? Would you give away your Tennessee ticket to a friend because you feel guilty charging them? Have you ever danced in the street during a rainstorm? Every where you turn there's a question about something or someone. From just-for-fun types to deep questions, online users like the idea of giving their opinion and then seeing how their vote ranked in popularity. But polling experts are not too crazy about the impression these polls are giving.

"The market research industry hates them," said Amy Davidoff, president of Market Voice, a marketing consulting firm in Indianapolis, in an August 14, 2000 Editor & Publisher article. "People start to think that surveys are games that can be manipulated, or that they're entertainment."

And for some newspapers, they are entertainment. In the same article, Arizona Republic online senior producer John Ames said his staff tries to stay from already-answered questions that won't generate responses, like "are drugs bad?" Instead, his staff provides simple questions that may require thought or someone being in tune with what is going on.

One of the Republic's surveys last year asked readers if they preferred a summer monsoon storm or a brutally hot day. The monsoon won 80% to 20% with nearly 1,000 people voting, a turnout that was 10 times bigger than those who responded to a question about whether Madonna's video, "Music," was too racy.

Online newspapers realize these polls are unscientific and some even write a disclaimer telling viewers so. But that's not enough to satisfy Howard Fienberg, a research analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit think tank.

"Unscientific online polls are "giving people false impressions of how public research is done and a false impression of public opinion overall," says Fienberg, in the same article titled "Newspaper Sites, Critics Polls Apart."

He points to a poll by the New York Post last November in which the site asked readers to name the 25 most evil people of the millennium. Adolf Hitler topped the list with Bill Clinton in second, and Hillary Clinton finishing sixth.

Regaining that excitement

When the concept of a Web was still new, the ideas and possibilities seemed endless. This is what drove Web design. Designers would come up with ideas such as a navigation bar or rollovers and their ideas spread.

Barbara Kuhr, the creative director at HotWired, said in a March/April 1999 Print article, "There was a rich culture where everyone was trying new things.

This eagerness for experimentation has strangely disappeared. Now it's about the daily grind of the newspaper business. But will that eagerness return?

It will with the next rush of web technology, writes Darcy DiNucci in a March/April 1999 Print article.

"The force that breaks the dam may be a radical increase in bandwidth as cable modems are finally connected to homes across America," she writes.

"It may be the adoption of Internet appliances that fragment the Web into a variety of media, accessible from wristwatch weather stations and car dashboards. Maybe, just maybe, it will be a revolutionary idea pioneered by some courageous and economically unfettered Web publisher - a vision that will revolutionize the web just as the introduction of perspective revolutionized the art of painting in the Renaissance. Whatever the force, I predict that the current complacency - and the left nav bar - will soon be a thing of the past."

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