At 55 minutes past every hour, tournament poker players get a break. All MTTs halt simultaneously and grinders can scoot off to take a leak, warm up some food or say hi to a loved one sitting in another room. It’s not much, but it’s something. That five minutes can be the most important of the hour.
Our “Five-Minute Filler” series offers a few alternative ideas for things you might want to do in those five minutes. And today we look at a suggestion that could influence the news agenda, and the lives of your fellow humans. We’re talking questionnaires.
Ever wondered where news stories get their stats? Ever wondered where scientists get some of their craziest observations? Ever wondered why restaurants bring new items onto their menus and drop others? Ever wondered why we watch the adverts we do?
The answer to a lot of these queries is the same: they ask the general public what they think, and then they study the responses. And in a lot of cases, they’ll pay you — a member of the general public — to give them the information they’re looking for.
Yep, you can get paid for sitting at your desk and answering questions. And therefore your five minutes spent ticking multiple-choice boxes can have an influence on what our politicians, journalists, researchers and marketing departments do. A small influence, admittedly. But it’s an influence nonetheless.
So where do you sign up? Where are these questionnaires?
This money isn’t going to make you rich — the minimum payment is the equivalent of $6.50 per hour, and the researcher can pay by the minute, so you’ll often get less than $1 for answering a quick survey. But so long as you’re not expecting to feed your family by answering these questions, the whole process can be fascinating.
Participants need to answer a few screening questions when they sign up for a Prolific account, and then are only shown studies for which they are qualified. (Many other sites don’t do this, which means you can get halfway through a study and suddenly get screened out.) But the range of studies is extraordinary. On a recent Tuesday lunchtime, I was presented with options to take studies on subjects as diverse as “Consumer Experience in a Restaurant” (4 minutes; £0.50), to “Entrepreneur Decision-making study” (9 minutes; £1.25), and then asked about my most recent experience with biodegradable products (2 minutes; £0.33).
Some more memorable studies include an encounter with an all-seeing AI robot, which scooted around an office and issued judgments on the staff (the gist of the study seemed to be: is this good or too freaky for words?) and all manner of video arcade-style games in which I chased stars and boxes across a screen, all while trying to recognise faces of people who may or may not have committed a crime.
My input has apparently helped people from universities in the Ivy League, to northern Scandinavia, to the British government, and many others.
Prolific insists all its data is kept anonymous, and pays to a PayPal account. More importantly, studies are often very short so can be easily completed in a tournament break. The site is also available in 36 countries worldwide, including the UK, Canada and the United States. So sign up and enjoy!
It’s not always clear who has set the questions in a survey published by Populus Live, but there’s sometimes a clear correlation between questions about British politics and the headline news story of the following day. Particularly in the weeks around an election, or another major political story, Populus users are quizzed regularly about their voting intentions, or opinions on prominent political figures. (The site itself says it focuses on business, culture and politics, and that is borne out by the surveys I’ve answered.)
Other studies include those clearly set by major high-street retailers, who quiz participants on their shopping preferences and ask a lot of questions beginning with things like: “Would you buy something that looked like this…?” I’ve also seen a good number of billboard and television advertisements, with questions then following about how the words or images impacted me.
Populus surveys aren’t quite as wide and wacky as some of the ones that feature on Prolific. You never get the impression the study has been commissioned by an excitable psychology postgrad with a grand theory to test. But you get £1 for every five minutes you spend answering questions, and you might well see the overall results in the national newspapers before the end of the week.
iSay used to be called Ipsos, which is a word familiar to anybody who has read or watched a news story on an important topic. Plenty of government departments seem to use this survey service to canvass participants on a number of heavy-duty political topics (the benefits system, for example), as do some heavy-hitting mainstream brands. You’ll certainly get the impression you’re helping someone or something — assuming you get past the screening process, which seems to root out a lot. That’s a good thing for the marketeers, presumably, as they get access to their target market.
iSay participants are well remunerated, however, with payment coming in the form of vouchers for major e-retailers. It’s also good in that even people who are screened out are given credit for their time, meaning there’s no such thing as a completely wasted survey.
Plenty of other survey sites are out there, including Swagbucks, which has the longest list of surveys, plus polls and various additional promotions. Users on this site collect the eponymous “Swag Bucks”, which they can then exchange for giftcards or PayPal credit. The site also has a lot of affiliate links, which give money-off discounts to Swagbucks participants.