Where shall we go for drinks on Friday?
Who's going to win the game this weekend?
What should I wear on my first date?
We often turn to those around us for help with answering questions - sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of curiosity. Trying to decide on a venue for a night out with friends often involves lots of texts and calls; settling a sports debate can easily turn into heated exchanges on Twitter; and when considering fashion dilemmas, many of us turn to Facebook to ask friends and family for their input.
But what if there was a simple way to ask questions like these, and get responses to them without all of the lengthy discussions that can sometimes get in the way of a straight answer?
Well, there is - it's called Straw, and today, version 2.0 of the app was released.
Straw aims to offer a simple way to collect answers and opinions, using polls that are painlessly easy to set up. You can share these polls via social media, and since the app is available across all three leading mobile platforms - Android, iOS and Windows Phone - most of your friends and followers can also get in on the action. And with the 2.0 release, Straw says it's making things even better, with a range of improvements and new features:
- An all-new sign-in/sign-up process. You can still log in to Straw with your favorite social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Microsoft Account, but now, if you’d prefer, you can create a personalized, password protected Straw account.
- A more beautiful, easier to use interface. We heard loud and clear that you love Straw because it’s simple and easy to use…so we made it even easier and simpler. The new interface is based entirely on modern design principles and will look great on your iOS, Android or Windows Phone device.
- Private results. You now have the option to make your poll results private. Anyone can vote, but they won’t see results immediately afterwards as they do with a public poll. This is great if you’re asking a sensitive question.
- Easier poll link copying. Just swipe left on any in progress or completed poll and you’ll see a “copy poll link” option.
- Embed codes are here! When you post a new poll, you now have the option of generating custom embed code, in addition to sharing the poll via StrawCast, SMS, or your social networks. Drop the embed code into a blog post or website so your readers and viewers can vote, straight from the web.
- Edit running polls in real-time. You asked, we listened! You can now change poll durations and make edits to content and copy in real time, without having to close and re-post your poll.
But the most exciting new feature in Straw 2.0 allows you to pose questions to every user of the app around the world.
Simply create a poll as normal, and then select the Strawcast option; in addition to being posted to any social media that you selected, or to your friends via SMS, the poll will be visible in the app to other users worldwide, so that they can cast their vote too. It will also be tweeted via @Strawcast, to give users' polls greater visibility.
Although it's not actually a Microsoft app, Straw was developed by a bunch of Microsoft employees, including Ben Rudolph, the company's Worldwide Retail Sales Evangelism Director, better known as 'Ben the PC Guy'. I had a chat with Ben this week about Straw 2.0, and he sounded pretty excited about the new Strawcast feature.
The beauty of Strawcast, he explained, is that it's genuinely troll-free. Others can vote on your polls, and you can vote on others' polls, but there are no comments, voting is entirely anonymous, and the identity of anyone who posts a poll is also protected. You can even keep the results of the poll private if you want to. That all helps to cut through some of the crap that tends to pop up when you just want a simple answer to a simple question, whether from friends or strangers.
Ben suggested an example of posting a straightforward question on his Twitter feed about a movie or something, and immediately being besieged by responses like "When is Windows Phone GDR2 coming out?" and other stuff that, while important to others, doesn't get him any closer to getting an answer to his original enquiry. Straw says it aims to eliminate that kind of fluff from the process of asking questions, making it easier to get simple, to-the-point answers.
With Strawcast, things are opened up beyond your immediate circle of contacts and followers, and whether you're asking something of the utmost importance - like whether Picard or Kirk was the better Starfleet captain - or simply trying to decide what to eat for dinner, Straw says it believes it's "the easiest, safest way to get honest advice and opinions on the internet."
Considering Microsoft's recent app-buying spree, and its growing portfolio of cross-platform apps, Straw seems like it might be a nice fit as an actual Microsoft product. Ben assured me that nothing like that is even being considered, but I asked him if we might see some new features in the future that could hook into Microsoft services - the ability to share poll results to a OneNote notebook, for example, or exporting polling data to Excel.
He said that future development of the app will follow a path dictated by its users. All of the new features and improvements added in 2.0, he said, are the direct result of user feedback, and these additions represent some of the most popular requests among users, of which there are now over 10,000 - not bad after just six months. If someone suggests a new feature, and lots of people like the idea, the Straw team will look at implementing it in future releases.
For now, it sounds like Ben and his colleagues are pretty proud to be rolling out this 2.0 release, and given how well it all seems to come together - and how easy it is to use the app - that certainly seems fair.
But there was one other thing I had to know: I asked Ben where the motivation came from to develop the app in the first place - was it just filling a gap in the market, or did it originate from some personal experience or frustration? "Well," he said, "the truth is it started with a bunch of friends and some drinks..."
The best ideas so often do.
Straw 2.0 is now available as a free download for:
Check out the launch video for Straw 2.0: