Friday, 26 April 2013

Making money with Surveys - a substantive review.

This post may not be entirely similar to the general style of my previous posts, if such a style exists, but the whole point of starting this baby is so I could talk about the things I want to talk about. This happens to be a subject I have learned a lot about in recent years, and I thought maybe other people could benefit from some of the information I've gathered in that time. Please note, I am in the UK, as such I will be dealing primarily with UK survey sites and currency, but I will give some nods to the American sites too, plus many of them are international anyway.

Firstly, for those who aren't entirely sure - surveys for cash is a valid way of making money. I say this because there are some people who view this topic along the lines of all those other "too good to be true" money-making ideas that turn out to be scams and pyramid schemes and the like, or perhaps similar to things like affiliate marketing which, while valid, tend to be quite esoteric and require a heavy skill set and investment to make them work. This isn't at all like that, although some of these survey sites will greatly exaggerate how generous they really are in advertisements. The truth is, as with anything, there are downsides and upsides to doing this properly, and a lot of it has to do with which companies you join up with.

You most definitely can make money with survey for cash schemes, indeed, you certainly WILL if you give it a fair try, but let me make one thing very clear. You will not make MUCH. I only get what I would consider to be pocket money, and that's by the standards of someone who is utterly broke. What's more, if you work full time, or perhaps even part time, it is NOT worth the investment of time. Depending on the site, you could make the equivalent of anything from  50p-£1 to in the best case scenario maybe £3-£4 an hour. Note, this is an extrapolation, I'm not saying that after 5 hours you will make around £5, rather than a single survey pays about 50p-£1 for an hour's work. The chances of you finding enough viable surveys to make a significant amount of money in a single day are low.

A final word before I get to the reviews concerning safety - though some people would assume this doesn't need saying, it is worth pointing out that you should always be careful with your personal information. Many of these survey companies will ask for your phone number. Whether or not you choose to give a real one, a fake one or pass on that company is up to you. Personally I give fake phone numbers usually, as on the few occasions I have given my real number I immediately got added to dozens of telemarketer databases that still harass me daily.

Likewise, you may want to use a pseudonym and I strongly advise you dedicate an email account just to this. You will find yourself inundated with a lot more spam than usual, although in recent years the spam filters seem to have advanced enough to limit most of the overspill. Bear in mind that sometimes a survey will check the details you input during the qualifier questions against their records, so if you are going to use multiple aliases, always remember which one belongs to which site.

Remember that nothing is a surefire, and there are no ways to "get rich quick", not unless someone finds a way to upload "luck" directly to the internet. You'll only get out of  incentive schemes what you put into them, that's the whole point of an incentive. I consider them best suited to people who are struggling financially, and have the time to make full use of this system, whether because they are unemployed or for whatever other reasons. It takes time and effort, but both of these factors decrease significantly as you get used to it and streamline your approach.

What follows is a comprehensive list of the most popular survey sites that I myself have used, and my review of how they hold up. After this, I will add some thoughts, tips and advice on how to go about this, a few words on the ethics of how honestly you should fill out the surveys and some red flags to be on the lookout for if you want to avoid getting kicked out of surveys unnecessarily. Please note; some of the survey sites I'll be reviewing won't have links, the reason being, they are so far as I am aware, invite only. If I am able, I will invite you directly using an affiliate link if you so desire. Just contact me with your email address.

Valued Opinions

Value for time: [***--]
Number of surveys: [****-]
Qualification rate: [***--]
Reliability: [****-]
Withdrawals: [***--]

I decided to start with my favourite, but hear me out before you jump in and sign up assuming them to be the best. This site makes me all warm and runny but mainly because it is a safe bet. In terms of value for time spent - they are actually NOT the best. You'll typically get offered rewards like 50p for 25 minute long surveys, 75p for 35 minute, sometimes £1 for the same period of time (sometimes even as high as £1.50 -£2). It of course varies, but the overall payoff for your time is not as high as it is on other sites.

Another area where VO falls short is the withdrawal method. They have a minimum withdrawal amount of £10, meaning you must have at least this much in your account before you can withdraw. They use a voucher system, where you redeem your money in the form of a giftcard for various supermarkets. I first signed up for this site because they offered Tesco giftcards, but they have since cancelled that particular voucher system, and now I am forced to use Sainsbury's, which I like less due to Sainsbury's higher prices (making the fruits of my work overall seem less valuable).

Unfortunately the ticks in the con column continue to mount when we get to the topic of waiting. After ordering a voucher from VO it takes a VERY long time for it to arrive. We're talking weeks, perhaps months. I honestly don't know because by the time they arrive I have completely forgotten that I even ordered one, it takes that long. This is the strongest downside of using this site, even Amazon e-vouchers, which you would expect to be quicker, seem to take just as long.

It's not all bad, however, and there are good reasons why I consider this to be my favourite site. Firstly, the lack of design errors in the surveys. I don't know who codes the VO surveys but they should be commended, no other survey site has so few problems with their interfaces. The disqualification rate isn't all that bad either. It's by no means the lowest, but VO seems to avoid that nasty little problem of waiting until you completed half the survey before deciding you don't qualify. This only goes to show that when other sites do it, they really don't need to. They deny this, but I think they are just taking the data and running.

VO has a very high rate of survey offers, typically I'll get 2 or 3 a day, most of which I am able to actually complete, with the occasional dry spell where you don't seem to hear from them for a while. What I like most about them is that they are not too demanding on my computer, they can sit there patiently while you flick back and forth filling them out without just randomly crashing, and it's overall just a safe guarantee of money. I've withdrawn from VO at least 3 times more than any other site.

Good consistent money from these guys, and every once in a while you'll get a pretty decent invite offering you £3 or £4 for a single study. Worth sticking around for. If you have to leave this review with just one recommendation, Valued Opinions would be the one I would have to go with. They're not nearly as good or as clever or as important as they think they are, but they definitely are a very dependable way to make money. Albeit, not a whole lot.


Value for time: [***--]
Number of surveys: [***--]
Qualification rate: [**---]
Reliability: [**---]
Withdrawals [****-]

This one is much more of a mixed bag, and I hesitate to say it is my second favourite. The value for time is probably about the same as VO, if not lower, but every once in a while you'll be offered a cracking deal. I like this site mainly for the low withdrawal limit, you can claim your earnings when you've reached as few as 345 points (the equivalent of £3) and best of all - you can withdraw to PayPal!

I LOVE this feature, and I do not understand why more sites don't use it. Somehow it feels more like actual money than a voucher, plus you can decide what you spend it on and where. Of course, you can also withdraw to Amazon (and many other places) but I don't see the point. I don't care for Amazon due to how retardedly expensive it is compared to eBay, but even if you insist on wasting your money there, you could just as easily withdraw your PayPal money to your bank and pay that way.

It does take a little while for the money to go through, nowhere near as long as VO, but somewhere in the order of 1-2 weeks at the most. It's always a nice little ka-ching sensation when you get that email from PayPal telling you a bit more money has appeared in your account. I would like the process to be a lot faster, but considering how easy it is to make and claim it, I'm not complaining. They used to add a little extra to your account as a thank you even when disqualified from a survey, which was very pleasant, but have since replaced that with "prize draw" entries that you won't win.

Now for the downsides - first and foremost, the survey design. MySurvey has *horrendous* survey coding, they frequently crash for no reason, glitch out or are just badly designed. I was once asked to provide a number that was more than 3 but less than 4.The survey would not let me move on until I provided this non-existent figure. It's like the whole thing was coded by a bunch of moneys with keyboards - and not the Shakespeare-writing kind.

But the biggest problem by far is the inactivity countermeasure, at least that's what I'm assuming it is.

If you leave the survey untouched for any more than 5 minutes... you're screwed. Maybe I'm exaggerating there, but I don't know by how much. You can't tell that the survey has broken as a result of your inactivity, it still lets you fill out the entire thing, even if it's a two hour long survey. Then, once it's complete, and you click the submit button, it redirects you to an error page. Oh that error page... how I despise that fucking error page. I have seen it so many times. You will come to hate it too, you'll see.

The support staff are completely incompetent  never answering your queries and barely able to string a coherent sentence together when they do. You generally won't find your problems resolved even after getting promises that they will be and it's just not even worth the time complaining. If you're going to use this site, you're going to have to make peace with a harsh disqualification rate, an extremely high rate of survey glitches robbing you of your hard-earned money, and the knowledge that there is jack shit you can do about it.

All that aside however, you can make a lot of money very fast, provided they are not in one of their dry spells, which can last weeks. When they end, however, you'll usually find yourself inundated with survey offers. Try to jump on them quickly, they expire fast.

MySurvey has a Mobile ap for cell phones, but so far as I can tell - it's crap. Doesn't do anything.


Value for time: [**---]
Number of surveys: [**---]
Qualification rate: [*----]
Reliability: [*----]
Withdrawals [*****]

If MySurvey is a mixed back, this place is like a bag of scrambled eggs. In a blender. I don't know how you would fit a bag of scambled eggs in a blender but that's still a fitting analogy for the living contradiction that is OpinionWorld. I honestly don't know whether I utterly hate this site or completely adore it. There is a lot to say about this relatively simple, straightforward website, so let's get to it.

Firstly, the best part of this site and quite possibly the best feature out of all of these sites: You can withdraw, IMMEDIATELY to PayPal. Yes, you read that right. You can literally click a few buttons and have all your reward money in your PayPal account in under a minute. It does have a high withdraw limit of £10, though that's par for the course. Nevertheless, being able to withdraw INSTANTLY is a godsend, and for this alone I would recommend this site.

Now... the downsides, chiefly among which - the survey design. This site has quite possibly the worst survey coding of any site I have ever seen. Literally over half the surveys I attempt to take on this site immediately fail due to some sort of bug, whether it's a redirection to that tedious "It seems you paused the survey" page or simply "an error occurred". Most infuriating is when this happens half way through a survey, which is an extremely common occurrence as well. I've been robbed of more hard-earned cash by this site than any other.

To their credit, the staff very often get back to you when you launch a query, and very often you'll find that they manage to get the money to you after all  Just be sure to quote the correct survey reference number in your email, and bear in mind that they probably won't pay you for a survey that kicked you out, however errantly, before it was 100% completed. You will also need to show patience for the fact that for some reason, despite making you fill out a personal details page, they STILL refuse to send you  surveys targeted for your demographic, so you frequently get kicked out anyway. Why HAVE that information if you're not going to use it?

This site is incredibly frustrating to use, and combining these constant glitches and incredibly harsh disqualification rate with the fact that they simply refuse to take down surveys that are already quota-filled (forcing you to waste a few minutes trying to qualify before you find out it is already full) and their long periods in which no new surveys get added, I actually get so angry with this place that I rage quit it at least twice a year, and have sent them so many emails threatening to close my account that I don't think they even take me seriously any more.

For the money, it's worth it. But you may end up paying for that purely in blood pressure and shortened lifespan.


Value for time: [**---]
Number of surveys: [*----]
Qualification rate: [*----]
Reliability: [*****]
Withdrawals [**---]

This survey site is very much in a class of its own. By that I don't mean it is far superior to the others, merely that it is a very different animal from your typical incentive scheme. You can't regard it on the same terms as sites like VO or MySurvey, and if you try you'll find your patience quickly runs out. NVL is best treated as a kind of background earner, not something that gives you immediate payoff.

For starters it has an extremely high withdrawal limit. £50 - that's really about as high as it gets in this industry. On top of that, they have an extremely low and sporadic rate of survey offers, and their surveys have extremely harsh disqualification rates. In other words, you'll only get a few surveys from these guys a month, and you'll be immediately kicked out of so many of them that you'll start expecting that to happen by default.

It will take you a very long time to reach the £50 mark, it took me probably two years to get to my first one, and just over a year later I still have a good £5 to go before I am due again (I'm particularly annoyed right now as I only just got disqualified for a £3 survey - RRRHH!) Survey glitches and errors do happen, though nowhere near as often as MySurvey and NVS, but annoyingly, when they do happen it tends to be half way through the survey, and good luck getting them to compensate you for it.

The biggest gripe most people have with this site, besides its absurdly low rate of survey offers, is how long it takes for your cheque to arrive after withdrawal. You can ONLY withdraw by cheque, and you have to specifically request it by email. It takes MONTHS for it to arrive. It took so long for me last time I had to get them to re-send it, because I'm fairly confident they left it so long they just forgot. You need to keep on their backs about it or apparently it just won't happen.

My personal biggest gripe with them is their use of stupid tricky little quality checking protocols they implement to rule out liars or bots. Rather than just give you a captcha or ask a few simple qualifier questions, they try to actually trip you up with confusingly worded questions like "How many cars do you own" followed by "And how many vehicles to you own?" which IS supposed to include cars. They engineer silly little verbal trapdoors where if your exact phrasing drifts a little from a qualifier question at the start of the survey to the quality check question at the end, you can find your entire (up to an hour's worth) work gets simply erased.

I remember one time losing a significant portion of money due to answering a harmless question and suddenly being subjected to this Sherlock Holmes-esque deductive tangent where it broke down all my previous replies with a series of deconstructive statements; "You claimed the chief income earner was over 18, and also that you were the oldest member of your household yet you also mentioned that you live alone, and seperately, that you are unemployed. Indupitably, (I may have adlibbed that) you must therefore be the chief income earner of which you spoke. Furthermore, you went onto say this and that, but how can that he true if this is like that?" Etc etc etc. Usually this happens because they phrase a question stupidly as if you deliberately lure you into giving the wrong response.

I think there is a big difference between keeping people honest and trying to deliberately trick them into making a mistake with these pointless gotcha questions just to eliminate them. I dislike that sort of underhanded behaviour, treating their own members as guilty until proven innocent. That's just a personal grievance. Elementary my dear fucking assholes.

Newvistalive isn't for the impetuous or the faint of heart, it is best left on the backburner, slowly accumulating money while you go about your business, and then hopefully you'll log in some day and be pleasantly surprised by a full account. Don't sign up with them if you are impatient or don't take rejection well. ...Or perhaps if you have a tendancy to overuse detective novel analogies.


Value for time: [*----]
Number of surveys: [****-]
Qualification rate: [*----]
Reliability: [**---]
Withdrawals [*----]

I have a complicated relationship with Toluna. Sort of like that one ex that you never quite stop feeling conflicted around, but then you spend five minutes with her and instantly get reminded of her annoying quirks like laughing nasally at things that just aren't funny, or that thing some people do where they keep saying "yes" every half second when you're talking to them and you're like, bitch shut up, I'm trying to talk to you and you're constantly interrupting me by telling me that you're listening!

Once upon a time Toluna had an enormous and dedicated community built around it. They had polls, forum threads, topical discussions, private messages, the whole shebang. Friendships were made there, unique traditions and communal activities were born there. It was far more than just a survey site, it was a site built on the idea that we can all come together and share our thoughts on things, AND get paid for doing so.

I'm not sure what happened, but about a year ago they fucked it all up. They killed off the entire community, reducing the whole site to a no-frills survey for cash site, and not a particularly good one at that. The surveys were never its strong suit - high withdrawal requirements (80,000 points for a £15 amazon voucher) low value for time (average survey around 1-2000 points for anything up to 45 minutes work), high rate of glitches, and possibly the largest disqualification rate of all the other sites combined. It even has the same slow delivery problem as NVS.

I never liked using Toluna for the surveys alone, and now that it has gotten so much worse, I'm seriously considering closing my account after I'm done collecting my current batch of points. There is also a "product testing" option, but in the 3 or 4 years I've been a member, despite applying for the testing of pretty much every single product they had on offer, I never once was selected to test one.

Now they have implemented this absurd, insulting "gifties" and "lucky dip" system where you throw all your points away like spaghetti at a wall hoping that something will stick, it's essentially a buy your own mini prize draw system, but of course you're never going to win. They must think we're completely stupid, it's like if your employer walked up to you and offered for you to gamble your wages for the chance of being the one employee who wins a watch. Fuck that shit.

Toluna, you and I used to have something, but I'm sorry. I just can't do this any more.

It's not me, it's you.

The following are survey sites that I am unable to do a full review of as yet, either because I have only recently joined them, they are very slow earners, or because of some other factor limiting my knowledge of their trustworthiness. Please note, this particular blog post will be updated regularly as I get to know these and other survey for cash sites over the coming months.

Knowledge Panel

This is an American company, so I couldn't sign up for it - hence the lack of scoring. It's also invite-only, so I don't know how you'd go about getting in as I can't help you there either. It does, however, look like a pretty decent company. Not just because of their surveys, but also the fact that if you don't have any, they will PROVIDE you with both a free computer AND optional internet access in order to do their surveys.

I did contact them and confirm that their computers DON'T come with monitoring software for analyzing trends, but they do have such a software which is voluntary. All that is required for you to keep all this gear is that you remain active completing surveys, which they boast at being at the rate of about 1 per week. After 36 months you get to keep the PC and opt out of their surveys if you want.

I do not know anything about any other incentives they might offer.

Survey Network

Value for time: [*----]
Number of surveys: [*----]
Qualification rate: [*----]
Reliability: [-----]
Withdrawals [?]

If you've never heard of this one, that's forgiveable, even if you're already into this kind of thing. If so however, you've probably seen it before and not realised it. Survey Network are most often used as third party survey designers which other survey sites like VO or OW will sometimes redirect you to. They do however have a site of their own that you can join... and it is less than impressive.

The whole site is about as user friendly as a paper dick with no single section where you can search for the latest surveys, instead just one big list filled with every survey they have ever hosted, forcing you to click on each one randomly in the hopes that it redirects you to an actual survey. When that happens you will be prompted with a dialogue box asking you to confirm your age and location, upon doing so you'll... probably be told that there aren't any surveys to complete.

But that's okay, sometimes you'll actually GET to complete a survey before being told the same thing anyway. As I type this I'm looking at a page that I was taken to upon successful completion of a Survey Network survey that says "Thank you for your Feedback! Although you didn't qualify... etc" That's right, my reward for completing a survey is to be told I didn't qualify for it.

And this happens. All. The. Time. This site is even more badly designed than OpinionWorld's surveys, its disqualification rate is through the roof, and after between 2 to 3 years of work, I am finally at the £20 withdrawal limit. I can't tell you how fast the transaction goes through because I haven't done it yet, I'm trying to build up as much money in my reward fund as I can before withdrawing so I can finally close my account on this infernal site.

The one good thing it has going for it is that after you complete (or fail) a survey you will usually get immediately redirected to a page that offers you another survey, allowing you to do two or three attempts in a single run before you finally run out of surveys to get pointlessly kicked out of (or patience.)

Would I recommend this site? Only as a form of euthenasia for the criminally insane.

Digital Trends Panel

Value for time: [*****]
Number of surveys: [**---]
Qualification rate: [*****]
Reliability: [***--]
Withdrawals: [*****] (Note: read review.)

This newcomer to the market is an odd cookie. I only just joined so I'm still getting a feel for it, but my first impressions are positive. First thing's first - it's quite different from your typical survey for cash site. For one thing, you can't "login", at least so far as I can tell. This means you can't check your balance or look for available surveys, but there's another side to this. The way the system is set up actually precludes the need to do any of that quite well.

Firstly, they only seem to send you surveys if and when they have surveys for you to do. There's no reason to login anywhere to find the surveys because if they had any for you, you'd already have taken them. Also, and this is quite possibly my favourite part, there's no need to check your balance and request checks or anything like that, because they send you a PayPal payment for every individual quantity of money you earn. I cannot confirm this yet, as I haven't at this point had any money put into my PayPal account, but I see no reason to assume it won't happen.

The value for time is extremely high, perhaps the highest I've ever seen. They average out at £1 per every 5 minutes, and the first time I started filling out a survey and saw the progress bar leap from 0% to 18% completion after answering a single question it was a joy. The surveys are very user-friendly, and although I've only completed about 5 so far (one of which glitched, but to be fair I hadn't touched it for about 4 days, it should be noted however that it waits until the survey is complete before failing on you) I'm very impressed.

The final point I want to make about this company is that the survey aspect of it seems to be more of an after-thought, what they are more interested in is data collection through a downloadable web meter. I don't know if you can join their survey panel WITHOUT having installed this program because I downloaded it myself. They offer £15 straight to your PayPal in exchange for having it installed for 30 days (and a further £5 for every 30 days thereafter), and every time you launch a browser you are given the option to opt out of being monitored. If you're paranoid about them monitoring you anyway, this kind of thing isn't for you.

Note: The reason I listed the qualification rate so high is because technically you qualify for every single survey they send you (so far as I can tell) since they are targeted directly to your specific demographic. Without being a member, obviously, this is all academic anyway, but as I have explained, joining their survey panel is optional. The web meter is where the real action is at.


Value for time: [*****]
Number of surveys: [***--]
Qualification rate: [*****]
Reliability: [****-]
Withdrawals: [*----]

I'm brand new to this baby, and it's looking AOK so far. The surveys are not the most frequent, although nowhere near as bad as other companies, but like DTP above they seem to be well targetted to my demographic and I don't think I've been kicked out of any yet. Also like DTP there is a very high value for time, about the same in fact, averaging about £1 per 5 minutes spent, which they boistrously advertize on their homepage and seems to be pretty accurate.

One drawback seems to be the withdrawal system, which employs a very harsh minimum withdrawal amount of £50. Another problem with this system is they only have one form of payout - cheque. Be sure to sign up with a name that matches your bank account or you have have problems cashing it!

It's still too early to tell yet how good these guys are, but I've had no problems so far and earned a good few quid for a rainy day. I see no reason to assume things are going to go bad, but I've been wrong before.

(Actually I haven't, but I'm far too modest to admit that.)

Rewarded Opinions

Value for time: [*----]
Number of surveys: [-----]
Qualification rate: [-----]
Reliability: [-----]
Withdrawals: [-----]

I didn't bother linking this one, not because it is invite only, but simply because... don't even bother.

I joined these guys well over a year ago, maybe 2, and their survey invites dried up almost immediately. They use a points system, and my account has been stuck on 900 points (of the required 2000 of cashout of £20) indefinitely since then. I'm pretty sure they are not getting snagged by my junk mail filter, they just aren't sending any invites.

It's frustrating seeing almost £10 worth of pointy goodness just lingering there in a virtual limbo, inaccessible and impossible to add to. It's been so long now I can't even tell you how much you earn per survey, but I do recall that it wasn't smoothe sailing. To say I do not recomend these guys would be an understatement. They are dead in the water.


Value for time: [-----]
Number of surveys: [*----]
Qualification rate: [-----]
Reliability: [-----]
Withdrawal [?]

Now look, this is an utterly biassed and individually specific review - I freely admit that. In MY experience, GTM is absolutely fucking terrible. They make you jump through hoops to qualify for every survey, and when there actually IS one to do at the end of all that, they kick you out straight away. I made a point of explaining that I'm biassed here because everyone's experiences are different, and somehow I can't find anything but glowing reviews of this place (interspersed with a few claims of having been ripped off).

All I can tell you is that I honestly have not qualified for One. Single. Survey. It was infuriating to the point where I just rage quit the site and never looked back. I see no benefit in constantly inputting the same personal details over and over again just to get shunted back the second I hit enter. I do not like this site, and I don't see how anyone can enjoy it. But maybe I'm just a statistical fluke, maybe they just don't like my demographic. Either way, my experience of GTM was dismal.

No surveys to do (despite the constant spamming of invitations) and my account has remained a very niggling, very conspicuously gaping zero from day one. This survey site gave me nothing but trouble.


Value for time: [*----]
Number of surveys: [**---]
Qualification rate: [***--]
Reliability: [***--]
Withdrawal [?]

I joined these guys a good few months ago but have yet to reach the withdraw limit of £15, so I can't yet testify as to the waiting periods. Although they do the survey thing, that's only one small part of the site. They are more generally a third party offer site, that means they collect deals and adverts from other companies and incentivise you to join them.These sorts of sites are a whole different ball game from survey for cash schemes, and I know a few of them so if anyone is interested I can go into greater detail about that in a different blog post some day.

As a survey site these guys are mediocre at best. Very low value for time, often as bad as half an hour's work for 25p. You could literally do better just wondering around outside picking change up off the street. Their rate of survey invites is a little choppy as well, often leaving you with long periods of dry spells. The main focus of their site is through the slow and steady accumilation of cash through third party offers, clickthru adverts sent to your email address, sponsored web searches and other similar things.

If you know what you're doing, these guys aren't bad. But strictly as a survey for cash site, they are not great. I still recommend them though. Mainly for the other stuff. Just a couple of clicks a day allows me to slowly build up a balance, and hopefully when it comes time to cashout, it will be a smoothe transaction.

Opinion Outpost

Value for time: [***--]
Number of surveys: [**---]
Qualification rate: [***--]
Reliability: [**---]
Withdrawal [?]

The biggest problem I have with this site so far is the design of its own website. I honestly don't know if it's a problem with them or if it's on my end, but for some reason I just can't sign in. The only way I can login to their site to check on my account is by going through the welcome email they sent me on joining up which links me directly to my dashboard there. I've got no idea why this is the case, but it's annoying as hell (as is reflected in the reliability rating I gave them).

On the plus side however, they have an extremely low withdraw limit of £2.50, technically the lowest yet, and they claim it is an instant transaction although I have yet to experience it myself so I cannot confirm this. The reason being - low rate of survey invites. I've only been a member for a relatively little while but so far they've barely sent me anything. In fact the best way to get any action out of them is to go to the site direct, which as I've explained is an annoying process, for me at least.

They seem fairly average as surveys go. They tend to rent out a lot to other companies, so it's difficult to judge their average value for time, but so far (in my limited experience) it seems quite good. If they truly do cash out instantly, I would give them a stamp of recomended. We'll see.

Ongoing reviews (that I do not yet feel comfortable enough to comment on) include Justtheanswer, Ipsos, Shopper Thoughts, and NavteqPulse. Watch this space to see future updates as I get to know them better. Also under review is StreetwisetrendsPanel - who by the way I haven't heard a peep from since joining several weeks ago and thus have been unable to even experience what they're like, let alone add to my balance.

This concludes the review portion of this post. Now for the fun stuff.

A few words on Ethics.

Let me be clear. I believe in market research. I believe that big companies and corporations are ultimately slave to OUR will even if they sometimes forget it. They answer to us. They have to. If we all unite and speak out clearly about what we want, they will provide, because that's where the money is. Because of this, I do not condone the use of deception in surveys. It's easy to feel like you are just one person who can't possibly make a difference, but that is a flaw with all people. And that's why things generally stay so shitty.

I'm 99% sure that 99% of people can't say what I'm about to say honestly, and I'm 99% sure that most of you reading this won't believe me when I say it - but the fact is, I make an effort to be truthful and forthright in every survey I do. There have been many occassions where I willingly sacrificed a decent chunk of money just because I refused to compromise my own integrity by giving an untruthful answer to a survey that I knew wanted it. I take this responsibility seriously, and I give due diligence to every single question to the best of my ability. If you're going to do this - you should too.

The fact is your opinions offered in these surveys DO make a difference. People DO read your responses and those responses DO hold sway over the people who make the important decisions with respect to the food, entertainment and retail industries - even the government. You are being granted a chance to have your say, to sit down the politicians and the beurocrats and give them a piece of your mind, AND you are being paid - nay - EMPLOYED to do so. Do not squander that responsibility just to make some easy money off of randomly clicking your mouse. You can make that money AND make a difference with only a little bit of effort.

Having said all that - there are some exceptions. If a survey is particularly poorly designed, for example a chronic lack of neutral options, i.e., "Do you like Tom Cruise", with answers ranging from "yes a lot" to "not at all", but without any "no opinion" option, then I consider that survey fair game (bad example, I know, the correct answer is always "Tom Cruise is in the closet."). Likewise if there are coding/structural problems, stupidly phrased questions, typos, run-on questions that do not follow the format of the preceeding ones (e.g., Do you own a car? No. What type of car do you own?) all of these sorts of mistakes indicate a lack of care and responsibility on part of the survey designer, and if they're not going to take it seriously, why should we?

At the same time, surveys will often try to seed their own bias by asking a series of increasingly restrictive questions until everyone except those giving the answers they want have been eliminated from the survey. If you're going to do research into crisps/chips, and include every popular brand of crisps and have us state our opinions on each one, then THAT is valuable data. If you're going to kick out everyone who says they like pringles, doritos, walkers etc etc until only quavers is left, then fuck you in the neck. You don't get to engineer a survey where the only people who can possibly complete it have to say what you want them to, otherwise what's the point of the survey?

To be honest, doing these surveys can be a very rewarding experience, and being asked your own opinions on things, especially yourself, can really surprise you when an honest answer you weren't expecting comes out. You really can learn a lot about yourself, and in no time at all you'll find yourself shooting through these surveys very fast with no need to lie. However, if you MUST do surveys and not take them entirely seriously, or if perhaps you want to complete a survey you don't really have much stake in but aren't necessarily disqualified from either - here are some simple steps to bear in mind.

Always default to the neutral option. If you're not going to read the questions properly, you can limit the damage being done to the data gathering process by selecting the neutral options. The "I don't know"s, the "I neither agree nor disagree"s. By sticking to those, your vote is counting as a nothing. Both up and down vote at the same time, cancelling itself out. Of course that's not guaranteed, depending on how the data is interpreted (1000 people asked to review a celebrity, only 200 say they like him... neutral votes therefore count as negative votes) but this at least is the closest you can get to doing no harm.

The survey companies themselves tend to have some ethics problems. One of the biggest is the old hit and run method. If a company keeps disqualifying you when you are over half way through the survey - tell them why you're quitting, and ditch them. This isn't disqualification.50% of a survey is more than enough to have already ascertained if you are part of their target demographic. No, what's happening here is they are taking the valuable data you supplied them and running off with it, pretending you failed a qualifier question to excuse the fact that they aren't paying for you.

Generally speaking, you SHOULD be in the safe zone if you've managed to get 26-30% of the way through the survey. At that point, if it's a fair survey, you'll be on fairly safe ground to continue answering as you please without fear of sudden disqualification. Anything that consistently kicks you out beyond that point is ripping you off.

You may also get annoyed by the false advertising. While websites like PopulusLive rightly claim their surveys are worth £1 per 5 minutes, other sites, like Valued Opinions, stick into their every advert that you can earn "up to £5 per survey". Which is bullshit. I've been with them for years and years, the most I ever got was an offer for £4, which I got disqualified from before I could even get to the first screen. Don't be disheartened if a site doesn't pay off as well as it promised. Yes they can often be too good to be true - but that doesn't mean they're not still good enough.

The "Donate to a charity" option. This is a feature that many survey sites have, usually sitting right next to the withdraw button like a big, glaring eye.

Look, if you're doing surveys for cash, the chances are you're not well off. You're not obligated to break your back trying to scrounge up some spare money just to pass it off to someone else. Life isn't a Disney movie, if you can't make ends meet you have to take care of yourself. That doesn't mean don't look out for others or give back when you have wealth to spare, just that there's no reason to feel guilty for claiming your rewards. No matter how bad a situation someone is in there's always someone worse, you can't worry about all of them all the time.

Besides, these sites most likely don't actually respect your donations and actually give that money to charity. It's like those penny bins in McDonald's which they SAY is for charity. Does anyone really believe they hand that shit over? Hell no, they just tip it into the tills at the end of the day and some fatcat in an office (that I like to picture as Ronald McDonald with shades, a Bluetooth device and a bowler hat) chucks a token amount of cash at the nearest charity and calls it even. The point is, don't be emotionally blackmailed into throwing your money away, take care of yourself, then when you are in a more stable financial situation, you can take care of others without self-detriment.

Tips and red flags.

1: Read the description. First and foremost, always pay attention to the description of the survey. Surveys by Valued Opinions, for example, always list the "type" of survey in the invite. It might say "technology", or "food", something like that. Then, when you get asked about twenty different preferences you have, you know what to be on the lookout for. And when it asks you, in a "food" survey, if you ever eat out, you'll know to click yes. Something I like to do is click print screen to get a screen capture of the survey description, as I've very often forgotten what it said when it comes time to picking the right questions. This way I have an easy way to look back and make sure I don't screw myself over by picking the wrong answer.

2: Your job. The biggest red flag in any survey is one that will happen right at the start: "Do you or any of your relatives work in any of the following industries?" ALWAYS say no. They are trying to screen out possible data conflicts, for example someone reviewing cola who works for the same cola company might not be as objective as they would like. Of course it's stupid to include extended family in this disqualification question, and we're all grown up enough to know how to be objective. I'm assuming that you are, so if so, be sure to always click "none".

3: Matching the qualifiers to the control questions. Remember that very often surveys will try to trip you up by first asking you at the start of the survey a few seemingly demographic identifying questions, such as how many kids you have, but will then ask the same questions at the end. If your answers don't match - you're out. If you are not being totally honest - which I do not recomend, then at least remember what you picked. Also pay close attention to the exact phrasing of the questions, to avoid those silly, pointlss gotcha questions like NVL likes to use.

4: Leading questions. "Have you ever used Colgate toothpaste?" I'm assuming that what you should say here is obvious, but just in case it isn't I'll explain anyway. While I support total honesty in surveys it is often the case that, as I already explained, they will continue to rule out more and more people with each question that eventually they are left only with the responses they want to justify their research. In these circumstances I consider it fair game to be dishonest. If they are clearly angling for a certain answer, just give it to them. At least then someone gains from them screwing people over with their false data gathering tactics.

5: Hidden tripwires. If you're breezing through a survey tapping away at all the neutral options, as I have advised, you may find yourself suddenly get kicked out for no discernable reason. Why? Because of a mid-way quality check question. These are easy to miss even when trying to do the survey legitimately, so keep an eye out for them. They'll typically take the form of "Please tick __ to mark your place in this survey", and unless you select the stated option for that question - you're out. Another, somewhat related issue is that sometimes surveys have time traps, where if you haven't spent enough time doing the survey, you get disqualified under the assumption that you are just cheating. Fortunately I tend to do several surveys at the same time, switching back and forth, so this hasn't happened to me, but if it does I will be livid. If you do this long enough you learn to recognize a question and identify the correct answer at a flash, so even doing them properly can be a very quick process. I recomend using the same tactic I do, and doing several at once. Just be wary of the ones that expire too!

6: Behaviour of the survey. It takes a while to develop a feel for this, but sometimes after answering a specific question you'll notice that the survey takes longer to load the next one. It changes a little, maybe the page restructures, maybe the whole page redirects rather than just the spinny circle loading. You need to have been kicked out from a good few surveys to identify the difference between that, and simply the loading of a new section of the survey. Once you get a feel for it, and you know you are being kicked out, try hitting the back button. Some surveys, very few, will let you go back and try again without penalising you. It's getting harder to pull this off as people improve their security, but if you've made a mistake, clicked the wrong option or misunderstood a question and you're about to lose money because of it, it doesn't hurt to try. Remember some sites keep permanantly trying to redirect you forwards, so keep going back until you reach a page that stops, or try hitting the stop loading button in your browser to stay on a safe page.

Best of luck with your future survey-doing adventures, I hope these guides help you avoid unnecessary exclusion.

As a final note, I will again leave you with the assurance that surveys for cash IS a real thing. It can make you money, but it's not going to be a substitute for a job. On the plus side you can do as few or as many surveys as you want to earn yourself some extra pocket money. In time you'll learn to tune out what you're doing and just relax, sit back, play some music and chill out while your hands do all the work. It's a great way to help get by when unemployed - trust me, I know, and it's invaluable when Christmas comes around if you save up all your vouchers.

Just remember to do so responsibly, safely and as honestly as possible.

If anyone can think of any companies I have missed, I'll be glad to hear about them and give them a try. Any and all future reviews will be added as an edit to this post, NOT future posts, but as stated, there may be future posts reviewing different incentive schemes.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The internet does not belong to us

In light of recent major changes to shake the internet such as the dissolving of Windows Live and the awkward transition from BlogTV to the hilariously bad "Younow" (that quite possibly no more than two people signed up for), I've been thinking a lot lately about how increasingly obvious it is becoming that anything we keep or store on the internet ultimately does not belong to us. For the moment, I am speaking with neither condoning nor condemnation, I'll share my views in just a moment.

It can be scarily easy to get locked in this mindset of feeling like the places you hand out online are somehow sanctuaries for your personal use. It is easy to get complacent or even naive about just how sacred those places are. One fine example of this is Youtube, which continues to enforce its policy of "If it ain't broke, keep fixing it" and subjecting its users to an endless barrage of increasingly non-user-friendly alterations to their system. Facebook also is notorious for this, with its implementation of things like "timeline" which literally not one single user on the face of this earth actually likes or wanted.

As a result we often tend to feel affronted by these forced changes. I know that to me, my Youtube profile feels very much like a home away from home. It rests at the hub of my internet activity, and then Youtube periodically barges in like an uninvited maid and begins moving things around, changing the settings and preferences I have gotten just how I like them, utterly ignorant to my protests. Of course whenever they implement changes like these they insist that they had testers vote on whether they liked it and followed the popular demand, but nobody believes that, because nobody knows anyone (except contrarian trolls) who claims to actually like these designs.

Anyone who has lost an email account due to companies changing hands, or spent any time on a beloved forum only to have it crash and lose much of their work can relate to how frustrating it can be to have years of dedication and memories get swept away in the backwash as these big conglomerates come bursting through our sacrosanct domains like runaway trains and not even notice the damage they are doing. We spend years building our profiles and contributing hundreds or thousands of posts/comments to various discussions only to have to stand there and watch as it all gets thrown away.

The thing we need to remember though is that these online domains to NOT belong to us, they belong to those mindless corporations. The purpose of those corporations is to make profit, and if they can make a little extra money by snipping away some of your home page to add a little more ad space there, they will do it. They don't care about the effect it has on us because they genuinely don't understand what these places mean to us. We're in a sense like spiders building our own Web (see what I did there?) around manmade objects. We've made these little internet cubbyholes our homes, we're adapted their shapes and capabilities for our own purposes, but this is very much like a whole different world from the one they see.

Case in point - I used to blog on something called "360" hosted by Yahoo. It wasn't especially great as blog sites there but circumstances just happened to be such that I ended up moving there from LJ when I got bored with it. I posted many very detailed blogs there, commented on all manner of things and reserved it for only a few precious friends. In the end, however, Yahoo shut it down deciding it wasn't worth their investment. It wasn't making enough money for them, and as a result I had the pages torn from my diary. I fully expect the same thing to one day happen to this blog too.

You might be saying right now that it's not that bit a deal. Why do you care so much? I hear you cry. Well, imaginary person, let me tell you. Online content is getting increasingly necessary to every day life. Records are being transferred from physical to virtual, companies are becoming more and more reliant on online registration. We've gotten to the point now where we can't even watch movies or play vidja games without having some kind of utterly pointless online connection to grant us permission to do so. Even when you OWN something you don't really own it without the net.

What's going to happen when everything you do in your life is in some way completely dependant on having an internet connection? I am typing this directly into my blog, as opposed to a Word document like I normally do, because the measly effort of copy-pasting the finished product from one to the other is slightly annoying. Do you think Word hasn't considered this? That they aren't working on ways to make this transfer even smoother? Eventually it could very well be the case that any and all similar programs might no longer exist on our computer but rather are streamed directly from the internet.

What if, at some point the whole concept of having "downloaded" programs becomes redundant, and we all exist as part of this continuous data stream sending us everything in real time with all updates and mods constantly sequenced directly in? Data storage would take on a whole new meaning, now our literal diaries will become the belongings of whoever holds the keys, everything from the pictures we take to the most meaningful conversations of our lives will become the hostages of larger corporate bodies who will mess around with that data as much as they want. Think this is all hypothetical? Consider how much of this stuff of yours actually is stored on your computer verses online right now.

Do you think your Youtube subscriptions are no different to a TV service or magazine subscription? You're wrong. Do you really think that anything on your profile on your favorite forum or social networking site belongs to you? In addition to the profile itself being on their website, your history is stored in their servers, your avatar is hosted on photobucket, your friends list is the product of online stored email contacts and every discussion, poke, karma rating or shared post exists only on someone else's archive which they are lending you access to for so long as they decide you may do so. Even your credit card info is in the hands of probably a dozen strangers you never met.

This has huge ramifications when it comes to things like privacy. We've already seen steps towards targeted advertisement, where your private conversations are studied so that adverts hosted on those websites can be tailored to your needs. Facebook is infamous for its lack of respect for its members privacy, constantly trying to push at the boundaries of what we will let them do, meanwhile Google+ was a trainwreck that didn't do nearly as well as they wanted precisely because of their stupid rules such as forcing you to use your real name and linking it to your other google accounts such as youtube. Even Amazon has been reporting private transactions to the police to get people arrested for marijuana use.

All the while this is happening we've been assaulted by a plethora of bills designed to destroy internet privacy, usually in America, because America seems to think it owns the internet. SOPA and PIPA were just the start, there's nothing to stop these nutjobs from constantly throwing the same bill with a different name at the Supreme Court indefinitely until it sticks, and that has come very close to happening with CISPA, which has already won half of its victory.

The world is slowly transitioning from personal hubs that branch out to various networks, to online hubs that feed us directly into theirs. The distinction between online and offline is becoming obsolete, and the most powerful forces leading the internet know this, and want to be ready for when it happens. They want to have systems in place so that they can remain in control from the moment we realise that in order to do anything with our own work we are immediately beholden to their whims. If they want to force us to openly reveal all our personal data, we will have no choice but to comply.

Just look at Ebay. They were once the cheapest auction site on the internet, but as soon as they choked up all their competition they raised their prices to phenomenal levels. Then they purchased Paypal, and now they can charge twice as many obscene fees. Why do we tolerate it? Because we have no other choice. No other company can come close to competing with them precisely because of these tactics. They hold the keys to us being able to do the things we want to do,

Your Youtube account does NOT belong to you. Your favourite forum can vanish from the internet at a moment's notice. Facebook might go the way of Myspace tomorrow along with all of your other most used online resources. Think you have a right to Google? If they decide to, they could make it a premium service and soon all other decent search engines would follow suit. Wikipedia could be torpedoed by internet censorship laws, pornography is already under attack (which I'll maybe get to in a different post). Your vlogs could vlog off, your torrents might wash away, Reddit could be Redidn't and 4Chan... well 4Chan is already crap but that's beside the point.

If you are under any illusions that the online bedroom walls you plaster with posters of Miley Cyrus or lolcats or whatever the kids are into these days really are yours to keep, you are in for a rude awakening. These corporations that have the right to strip those personal spaces of yours bare and stir your personal data around the web are not malevolent, they are thoughtless machines. Yes, there should be accountability, yes they should care what their customers want, but no, they don't HAVE to, so they don't.

Perhaps at some point we could all get together and build a site that is entirely user-generated, where we do as we please and nobody can dictate the way our preferences should be set up, but in the mean time, one of the difficult lessons we all need to learn is that the places we treasure most can be taken from us at a moment's notice. However intrusive that may feel, however unpleasant, regardless of whether or not that is how things should be, it is the way things are.

Remember to keep a firm line drawn between the virtual things which you keep in your own safe possession like objects, and those which only appear to be in your possession, but actually reside in someone else's virtual back-pocket  The internet does not belong to us, we just rent a room there, and our landlords can do pretty much whatever they please. I am not condoning the fact that they may come for your illusory freedoms, I'm merely informing you that it could happen, so you don't get taken by surprise when it does.

The internet is our playground, and feels like a wide open world through the shining window of our monitors, but in reality it is a chain of linked hands passing money and responsibility from one authority to another, and we walk upon that chain with precarious naivete. Our playground could be sealed behind iron gates or utterly obliterated at a moment's notice, so if you have anything valuable hanging out there in the electronic ether, be sure to reel it in and at least make a hard copy of it.

And next time you decide to go running into the internet like a care-free child, stop, and check your footing. One of these days you may just find that the very ground upon which you tread has been pulled away. Nothing is certain in this day and age, and everything you hold dear online is but an immaterial incantation of code and binary signals, however real it may look, it is not really there. Always be mindful of this, lest you lose something so treasured because you thought your DeviantArt page or your LiveJournal was an actual diary under your bed.

Keep the internet safe, my friends. And keep yourselves safe from it, both in terms of security, and dependency.