A quiz-ical look at Christmas content

A Christmas quiz sounded like a fun idea for the holiday period – but there were more challenges than expected in getting last year's quiz online (warning: this blog gets technical).

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Matt Wright
Matt Wright is website planning and content manager at IIED
24 December 2015
Two of the 20 questions in last year's environment and development quiz. After learning lots of lessons, we have produced another one this year... (Image: IIED)

Two of the 20 questions in last year's environment and development quiz. After learning lots of lessons, we have produced another one this year... (Image: IIED)

The Christmas and new-year period is a quiet time for organisations such as ours. But that doesn't mean we stop trying to get our message out to interested audiences, and it even forces us to experiment with new ways of communicating.

Over the Christmas period, the number of people visiting the IIED website typically drops to around a quarter of the usual traffic.

This means that, unless there is an exceptional reason, releasing new research makes little sense during this period. But we still want to provide people browsing at this time of year with something new to look at.

Last year, we decided to tackle this problem by creating our first quiz. We were so pleased with the response it received we have produced another one this year. But its development wasn't without problems. Here are some of the lessons we learned.

What to ask?

We had several aims for our quiz. We wanted to highlight a range of information about IIED's work during the year and we wanted to make it less serious than our traditional work (perhaps even fun!). We also didn't want the quiz to be a lot of work to create, so we wanted to use a format already in use rather than develop a solution ourselves.

The first step was getting the questions, and in a bid to involve as many people in the institute as possible, as well as cover our four main research areas, we crowdsourced the questions from our research teams. 

We weren't exactly deluged with questions, but enough filtered through, including a gem from Essam Yassin Mohammed who asked "Which fish communicate by farting?" (you'll have to take last year's quiz to find out the answer…).

Knowing when to move on

At the same time we began work on the format for the quiz. We wanted a one-page multiple-choice quiz familiar to online audiences, but crucially we wanted the quiz to work within our own Drupal-built website (rather than simply create something elsewhere). We wanted to be able to provide the answers – and link those answers to areas of our work – and we wanted some kind of ranking system at the end.

This proved much more difficult than we expected. We first tried the set of quiz modules for Drupal, but although comprehensive, we found it lent itself better to types of online tests and required significant customisation even to get the questions to show up on the same page.

Our experiences using Drupal have been overwhelmingly positive: there is a fantastic community ready to assist and nine times out of 10 there is a way to achieve your aim (or even 10 different ways!), so generally you persevere until you figure it out or find advice from someone else who has already found the solution. But sometimes something else is needed.

The first lesson then, was to realise our plans weren't working, and that it was time to move on.

Trial and error

Next, we experimented with multi-choice questions using HTML5, but we couldn't get this working reliably on our development site. There were a series of errors with the configuration, and given we couldn't see any obvious problems and weren't convinced it would be suitable anyway, we moved on to look at third-party solutions that could be embedded.

For the technically minded, below are some of the online quizzes we tried, and short notes on why we felt they weren't suitable:

  • Interact: a premium (paid-for) service but although they offer a discount to NGOs, it was ultimately not right for what we wanted. There were limited formatting options, we couldn't add links after questions, and couldn't reveal answers and format text at the end 
  • Examtime: we were unable to add links and the user needed to review all the results at the end to see explanations for each question
  • Google forms or Drupal webforms: these provided limited formatting options and we were unable to show the answers
  • Zoho: seemed limited in appeal and options
  • ProProfs Quizmaker: this was reasonably customisable, but the options for embedding into our website using iframes weren't great. We also didn't like how it looked and how you were unable to see the answers until the very end
  • Quiz Revolution: we really thought that this would do the job, but in the end, didn't like its design. We also didn't want to pay US$10 per month to embed it in our website for up to 1,000 views per month and to remove adverts, and
  • Qzzr: this was OK, but we noted similar problems to those previously tested, such as the inability to add links within the answers.

Finally, we came to Playbuzz, which boasts being one of the most shared publishers of user-generated content on social media. Even then, it wasn't without its quirks – a seemingly random desire to capitalise all text unless you add a picture to the question, for example. But, thankfully, these issues were surmountable.

Tricks of the trade

Research gave us a few more tips – for example studies show quizzes using the word "actually" in the title are viewed more often – and we launched our "How well do you actually know the world of environment and development?" quiz on 23 December, 2014.

We received great feedback instantly, particularly on social media where we were able to use the 20 questions to create visually appealing pieces of content to share throughout the holiday period. The quiz itself attracted a lot of views, and we could see that people were spending more than three times as long on the page as on equivalent blogs or news stories.

That's not to say it was perfect. It was probably too long (this year's is shorter) and, while we included social sharing options, we didn't give people the opportunity to share their results, the so-called "inherent viral loop" that allows people to promote the quiz within their social networks (this year we do).

We're still keen to create a quiz within Drupal (we'd love any Drupal experts to demonstrate to us how they have achieved the quiz format we desired) and one year on, of course there may be a better method.

We're tracking other quizzes we like, such as one by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the International Day of Forests that was developed within its own content management system so it easily works in different languages.

But we're happy with the final results – and there is also a serious side to what's intended to be a bit of fun. Not only can people learn more about our work, the process has also given us a greater understanding of what is needed to produce educational tests and courses that we might be able to run on the IIED website in the future.


Matt Wright ([email protected]) is website planning and content manager at IIED. Consultant Nick Turner also contributed to this blog.