I love the internet. It has provided me with everything from entertainment to freelance employment and it just keeps on giving more and more. Whilst internet enabled cookers might be a step too far (really, when is this ever going to be useful? Well, except for when it becomes this I suppose) we are inches from getting flying cars, nuclear fusion and real, ball-spankingly realistic robots, so internet enabling everything is going to be useful very shortly. Unfortunately in order for you to get a lot of this stuff you are going to have to fill in an angry Badger’s worth of forms, probably largely containing the exact same information.
I don’t love is forms (who does?). Forms are the dull, stultifying, stamp-on-your-dreams type, logistical horrors that every single internet site has. So the big data capture question is how does one get a bunch of form-hating, keyboard-shy, lazy, self entitled, tech junkies to fill in our forms so we can start charging them to live the Jetsons lifestyle?
The basic choices
You will be pleased to hear that it is not actually that hard to imagine a nice form; what is a massive headache is designing, validating and integrating that form into your website, CRM, newsletter etc. That’s where nearly all of the problems arise and then fester sullenly. You have three options when striding out into the field of custom forms…well, two and a half:
- A lot less coding (perhaps none!)
- Ready made CRM & CMS integration
- You have to pay, usually monthly
- It probably won’t integrate with anything that is not uber mainstream, and those systems cost lots and lots…unless it’s Google, then I guess it’s free
- You’re going to be bound by the app’s constraints. Most have customisation options, but several do this in CSS and code soooo…you’re back to it being not as WYSIWYG as all that flashy marketing made out
- You are probably going to get what you want (assuming you have t3h l33t 5ki1z required)
- Free – assuming you don’t buy images or something
- Integration often turns out to be easier as you just have to POST to one place
- You have to do everything. EVERYTHING
- It takes a not insignificant amount of time to create, more time to manage and a yet more to support and keep up to date
- Nearly exactly what you want
- Less coding
- Probably a fairly usable form as it appealed to you
- If you are stealing someone else’s work wholesale: make sure that it is something that won’t get you sued/fined/imprisoned for (remember SOPA!). You will probably at the very least have to acknowledge the “homage”
- It can actually be worse to try and dismantle someone else’s (invariably not annotated) code as there are subtleties and uniquenesses you may not spot, it may rely on other paid software, it may be too specific to its original purpose, etc.
- 90% of the time this is actually a precursor step to option 2 as you gradually realise that whilst this form looks stunning, it was built specifically for use on llama-related websites and your mohair rating is too low to reuse it.
Now you’ve decided how you’re going to build your form. In part two I’ll
look at roughly gloss over how to make it usable by your prospective clients no matter how technically challenged they may be.