I heard someone I respect complain once, that people answering the "would you recommend our service to someone else?" question answered, "I don't really talk to people about [OBSCURE BUSINESS SOFTWARE CATEGORY]." They said, what is wrong with you, are you completely missing the point on purpose or are you stupid – you know, the kind of berating rant true frustration inspires.

But here's the thing: I'm not a survey designer. I just ask and answer questions in the normal human way we all do. But when I hear a question about whether I would do something, I imagine myself in the future. Would it be appropriate? Would I want to do something? Am I obligated to do it or avoid it?

It isn't a value judgment, really, it's just, I'm trying to imagine myself in the future, and if you want me to imagine having a meal with a friend where they complain, hey, my time tracking software is just no good, you have any recommendations for ones that are identical but without problem X? I'm sorry, that scenario is pretty weird. If you're trying to evoke that in my mind you're going to have to tell me that story.

Because another part of me thinks, oh, this survey question wants to get forecasts of post-user-acquisition funnel behavior. Recommendations to other users is important to their business, and maybe instead of using it as a general proxy (which they could replace with a "how does this software make you feel", and like four or five emoji options), they want an answer to precisely the question they ask.

I think this is the downside to not having coherent survey etiquette. I can't read intent off the screen. It's all too new for me to assume the asker and I share a clearer intent than the plain question asks. Implicit and subtle questions exist only within the minds of people who study these things. Most people hear "would you recommend it" and imagine themselves in a recommend-y situation. I, personally, am pretty quick to recommend things, even if I didn't like them, if I think they're what someone is looking for. Should I adjust my responses for inflation?

Maybe this etiquette will develop, but I honestly hope not. Implicit questions create roadblocks to people who want literal answers. And I'm not sure we want people thinking surveys are meant to be taken metaphorically – I already rate so many things five stars even when they stink I worry about ratings systems.