If you'd like your site to act as a barometer of world opinion (or you'd just like to find out what people think), then online polls are the answer. You create a custom poll on a third-party polling server, with your own choice of question (such as "Which is the world's greatest programming language?") and multiple-choice answers (for example "JavaScript", "dBase" and "COBOL"). The server then gives you some HTML to paste into a page on your site. This displays a form containing the poll question and answer choices. When users views your page, they can choose an option and press the 'Vote' button. This takes them to a results screen (generated by the polling server), which shows how many people have voted for each option so far.

I've tried two polling services, from www.pollit.com and www.freepolls.com. They appear to use the same polling software (the poll setup processes are remarkably similar), although freepolls give you slightly better control over the results displays, and lets you specify images instead of text for the voting choices. Both systems give you a selection of styles for your page's voting form, and allow you to modify the form HTML, so you can change its shape, add images and so on.

The systems also very good at preventing people from registering multiple votes on the same day (freepolls lets you switch this feature off, which can be handy if you want to inflate your participation figures!). Banner ads are only displayed on the results pages, so don't clog your site, and paid-for options are available which keep the results for your eyes only.

Free polling services aren't designed for serious applications, but they do add some interactive fun to your site. I like them so much that I've set up a couple of my own - so visit my pages and vote on the momentous issues of the day!

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