The Race of Options: Deciding by Democracy

In our last post, we looked at a couple common general-purpose messaging apps and saw that when it comes to making decisions and plans as a group — and keeping track of those plans once you’ve made them — you’re better off using an app specifically built for the job: Sujjest.

This time, we’ll see what deciding as a group looks like in Sujjest, by way of a comparison with two popular polling tools: Doodle and the creatively-named “Poll” feature built into Facebook Messenger.

Polling isn’t Voting

Before jumping into the specifics of these interfaces, let’s make it clear — there is no polling in Sujjest, just voting. Votes have a definite threshold of support at which an option wins. Polls don’t. The difference matters because when an option is said to “win” a poll, it’s merely someone’s judgement call. That’s a sloppy and potentially contentious way to go about a “group” decision.

Polling and voting have traditionally served different purposes. You take a poll just to get a picture of participant preferences and hold a vote to make a collective choice between mutually-exclusive options. Your vote is a commitment to a possible outcome, whereas your response to a poll is an act of self-expression that doesn’t necessarily contribute to a decision.

These basic distinctions have been blurred by the use of polls to enhance other styles of planning. In Facebook Messenger, polls supplement messaging. In Doodle, polls are created by and for a group leader.
 
 The obstacle that held back small and ad hoc groups from voting and left the door open to these hybrid approaches comes down to a practical consideration: having a threshold at which an option becomes a decision would bring clarity to the process of deciding together, but who sets it, and how?
 
 We believe that defining when an option should become a group decision is best left up to those making the decision together, so Sujjest equally empowers all participants to adjust the threshold to fit their group and the nature of whatever they’re deciding.

Prior to this innovation, true voting was restricted in practice to formal circumstances. Now, with Sujjest’s collectively adjustable finish line, democracy can take place anywhere, fast and fair, for any number of people, however serious or casual the matter to be resolved.
 
 Actual voting has a decisive edge over plans made via poll, offering a substantially more reliable experience, while also injecting a little competitive fun into the planning process. With the limitations of polls in mind, there are still certainly aspects in which they are comparable though, so let’s take a look and see how Sujjest’s design differs.

Polling in Facebook Messenger

To invite people to respond to a poll in Facebook Messenger, you insert it into an open chat window. Polls snap to the bottom of the chat window whenever people interact with them, but they don’t anchor the decision-making process (to be fair they’re not really meant to) and they tend to drift off in the stream of back-and-forth messages.

If you’re a bit late joining a Messenger chat in which someone made a poll, it’s easy to miss that it’s there. That reduces overall participation, frustrating whoever created the poll.
 
Polling doesn’t offer the same incentive to respond as voting. Since anyone can declare the leading option the winner at any time, when a participant is ok with that option, even if it’s not their first choice, they may choose to sit out the process.

Facebook Messenger’s poll displays the top three options as a bar graph. At any given moment, the option with the most votes shows a full bar. That means the graph looks the same no matter what fraction of the group supports it. An option could be “in the lead” with one vote or have everyone’s support, with no visual difference. To tell whether it’s in progress or over, you’d need more context.

It would be convenient to see at a glance what fraction of the poll’s participants support the options or how many votes the group might consider enough for an option to win, but that context is also missing.

Rather than allowing people to see and interact with everything at once, Facebook Messenger’s poll interface is divided. The view-only summary floats in the chat and full details and interaction are on a second screen. As we’ll see, Doodle splits their interface too, but differently.

Polling in Doodle

Doodle made its name as a time-coordination tool for event organizers — often among the most challenging aspects of planning get-togethers. Doodle’s implementation of polling isn’t intended to make planning events a team sport so much as to make it easier to lead.
 
 Inequality between the role of poll creator and other participants is built into Doodle. Perhaps the clearest sign that the app isn’t designed for collaborative planning is that participants can’t add options. The poll administrator also gets to “finalize” any option whenever they want, regardless of the results.

In Doodle’s mobile app, the default view (even for the poll administrator) doesn’t display anyone else’s responses, just the list of available options.

Doodle’s “table view” — which is the only way to see poll results — is a colored grid of every poll participant and their response (or lack thereof) to every option, in the style of a spreadsheet. It’s not an easy way to visualize poll results and in a large group the forest would be lost for the trees. Even a bar graph would make it easier to see a group’s overall preferences than a grid.

A final quirk of Doodle worth noting is that all participants have the ability not only to invite others, but to manually add other people’s names to the list of poll respondents, then vote on behalf of these s̶o̶c̶k̶ ̶p̶u̶p̶p̶e̶t̶s̶ participants. Administrators, meanwhile, can change anyone’s votes at will.
 
 At every turn, Doodle shows itself to be just a way for group leaders to solicit input before deciding whatever they please, not a tool for deciding as a group by voting.

Voting in Sujjest

The presence of a finish line eliminates all uncertainty about whether a leading option is or isn’t the group decision yet. Unlike a poll, no one is left to guess about when there are enough responses.

In Sujjest, you’re free to invite however many people may be interested in helping to shape a plan together and if part of the group wants to decide without waiting for approval from the rest, then they’re free to tap the finish line closer to reach an agreement sooner.

How many people have been invited to participate in a group decision matters, so Sujjest shows it, both in the number of steps the race is divided into and with a participant list directly under the race.

Whenever anyone taps an option, those who have approved it are shown circled in the participant list. And by tapping a participant’s picture, you can highlight all the options they’ve approved at once. Which of your friends approve an option is often a relevant factor in whether or not you vote for it, so we’ve made it easy to see who favors what.
 
 Tapping the options you like to move them a step closer to the finish line is a way of looking at competing options that we believe provides a simpler, more natural interface than using abstractions like bar graphs, checkboxes, or grids to visualize voting.

The advantages of voting over polling combined with the flexibility of Sujjest’s unique adjustable finish line are the foundation of a more equal and efficient experience in collaborative group planning. Our other design improvements — from the visual race metaphor to the convenience of participant highlighting — build on that functional foundation and result in a tool that thoroughly addresses the frustrations that most people express with their current methods of making plans and decisions as a group.

Launch time, T minus…

It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point and significant development time for Sujjest’s three-person team. We’re thrilled that it’s now finally on the verge of beta release.
 
 If you haven’t yet, please add your email to our list at sujjest.com — we’ll be enabling app sign up and log in from the top of our site for the beta release. As always, thank you for your interest in Sujjest. We look forward to seeing what kind of get-togethers you organize!