Tim Macer examines the new features available with Snap 6 - the latest upgrade of Snap survey software

Make it snappy


More sophisticated web interviewing and a cleaner, simplified user interface are among a raft of changes Mercator has made to its popular Snap survey software package when it released Snap 6 earlier this year.
With 3,000 licensed sites in the UK alone, Snap can justly claim to be the most widely used survey package by a comfortable margin. While it may not appeal to the DP professional, UK researchers in almost 300 MR companies and thousands of clientside researchers create surveys and analyse the results for themselves using this versatile product.
For many of them, a major attraction is Snap's low cost compared to the many features it packs. Questionnaire design and analysis modules are aimed squarely at the end user, supporting the whole spectrum of research activities – from paper to web – with handheld CAPI, a scanning solution and even small-scale CATI offered as part of the mix. But critics have always pointed to a clumsy and non-intuitive interface that pre-dated Windows and made it a struggle for new users to learn shortcuts or remember options that differed widely from other desktop applications.
While there are no major innovations in the latest version, there are dozens of minor changes that will please existing users by making the package more productive and simpler to use. The interface has been skilfully redesigned in Snap 6. It's still familiar to anyone migrating from the previous version, but its archaic eccentricities have largely gone. Keyboard shortcuts have been standardised and context-sensitive right-button menus make a welcome appearance. Another popular addition is the "undo" command, which will apply balm to those painful "I can't believe I just did that" moments by allowing you to negate your recent actions. Dialogue windows for settings such as headers and footers, are now more like those you find in the Microsoft office suite.
Snap 6: www.mercator.co.uk
Pros
  • Good web and multimedia interviewing support
  • Consistent MS Windows interface eases learning
  • Strong on presentation, including tables and charts
  • Excellent value
Cons
  • Generic approach to web surveys will not suit all power users
  • Scanning not yet supported in Snap 6
Maybe the feedback to Snap HQ was that users were spending too much time getting things to fit on the page, because quite a few features in the latest version are designed to tackle this bugbear. A new template makes writing wordy questions in grid texts much less of a hit-and-miss affair. Preview options coupled with a "shrink to fit" button should save a lot of wasted paper from tables and charts that used to overflow. Template facilities in general have been improved, making it easier to apply your own consistent look and feel across the board. Templates also allow you to optimise your survey to fit the vagaries of different interviewing media but stop short of allowing you to create a single-source questionnaire that can be used in any context simply by switching templates, though it is tantalisingly close. Those who scan questionnaires need a little patience too – the Snap 6 scan module isn't ready yet, so surveys must be flipped back into version 5 to collect the data. Fortunately, the files are compatible.
Web surveys come in for the biggest set of improvements. Snap's architecture means you design a generic interview to convert to a web document, which in turn means you have an arms-length relationship with the actual web pages. Snap is not alone in doing this, and for some users the single-tool approach is an advantage, though for others heavily into web design, this would be a restriction.
In Snap 5, web surveys tended to look like printed questionnaires on the web. This has changed in 6 with automatic onscreen page-to-page routing, progress bars, a decent choice of onscreen buttons for question responses and a lot of new templates to help get the look right. Mercator will also build a custom template, for a modest fee, to match the appearance of your own website.
Carol Samuda, Wokingham District Council's consultation officer, typically runs 10 surveys a month through Snap, some on paper and others on the web. She reports a "virtually seamless" upgrade to Snap 6. "Everything converts across and is immediately available. I've not had Snap crash on me. The conversion has simply been a case of discovering what's new."
Finally, as someone close to the printed word, I am delighted to see that Mercator has courageously kicked one accountant-inspired Microsoft standard out of the way. Rather than ship with a four-page manual that tells you all the documentation is online, Snap 6 ships with seven slim, completely redesigned and eminently readable manuals covering each functional area of the software. It's a real touch of class.

www.mercator.co.uk

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at www.meaning.uk.com

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2001, Issue 424.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.