Software reviews from meaning

mTABweb reviewed

In Brief

What it does

Web-based analysis software for end users with extensive capabilities for handling trackers and syndicated research.

Supplier

PAI & Gamma Associates

Our ratings

Score 4.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 2.5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 3.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Entry level cost around £5,000 for 5 users. Data conversion costs from £200 per project typically apply.

Pros

  • Packs in a lot of functionality yet is extremely simple and highly intuitive to learn and use
  • Effortless support for time series and grouping real numbers and dates sensibly for analysis
  • Cross-platform Windows and Mac

Cons

  • Set-up of surveys via Gamma or an affiliated DP bureau only
  • Interface a little tired and dated in places
  • Severely limited access control: can only set usage permissions at a survey level

In Depth

The latest of a growing number of desktop data analysis tools to find itself reincarnated on the web is mTAB. mTABweb is a surprisingly faithful reproduction of what was, until now, a Windows-only analysis program, widely used in the specialist field of syndicated research. The online version is Java based, so it supports a wide range of browsers and platforms including Mac and Linux. Being web-based, it makes the task of distributing software and data to end-users very much simpler, as it is all controlled centrally.

Just as with the desktop version, mTABview’s interface hinges – quite literally – on simulated Filofax organiser, with two pages open in front of you and a series of tab-dividers on either side that let you choose which pages you wish to show side-by-side. You select the variables to tabulate from the Questions tab and by opening the Row tab or the Column tab, drag and drop them to build the table you want to view. There are other tabs for choosing filters, switching datasets or adding in a third level beyond the columns and rows. Percentage and respondent base selections are easily selected from dropdown menus.

When your table is assembled, you click a button to generate the table. In our tests, with some realistically large datasets, the table appeared within a second or two. A line of buttons at the top gives you access to other options, one of which takes you back to the Filofax view. The table looks disarmingly like an Excel spreadsheet, which gives the output window a very intuitive feel to users. Other buttons open up a wide range of options for finessing the output, from omitting columns or rows, to selectively adding shading or borders.

The simplicity of the interface (which is starting to look a bit dated now) and the ease by which you can move from data to tables belies this program’s actual level of sophistication as a serious survey analysis tool. Look at any of the features or options, and you will find an intelligent set of capabilities on offer. If you need statistics, there are means, standard deviations, medians, Chi-Square, t- and Z-test scores. It will also automatically create top-2 and bottom-2 box scores for any rating scale type question without requiring any recoding.

Filters and new variables are also easily created, using graphical editors. There is a range of built-in options for cutting numbers into categories or ranges, as well as intelligent handling of date fields. An interview date can be converted into a profiling variable based on calendar months, or fiscal quarters with surprising ease, which is particularly handy on trackers.

The support for trackers goes much further. You can combine different datasets, and there are tools for managing the differences between the waves of a tracker within the software.

Back in the analysis view, once you have viewed a table, you can save it, give it a name and come back to it later. You can also select a portion of it and turn it into a chart. There are a dozen chart styles to choose from, though the output styles are limited, compared to Excel or PowerPoint. However, you can also run correspondence analysis in the charting module and display these as maps. These too can be saved or pasted into presentations and reports.

mTABweb and mTABview are programs which appeal directly to the consumers of research data. Virtually any form of survey data can be transformed into an mTAB database (both programs use the same database format). The drawback for those that like to be self-sufficient, is that Gamma does not distribute the conversion programme: you have to send your data to Gamma for conversion. This inevitably adds delay and cost, though both may be modest. For those buying research from different research providers, however, there can be real advantage is in being able to use one tool regardless of the fieldwork provider, and the conversion stage can provide a valuable independent quality check on the data being provided.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, August 2008, Issue 506

Tim Macer

Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

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