Building Web Forms

I have been looking and looking for a good intuitive solution for form building. There are tens of form builder sites and products on the web and they are all crappy. I am guilty as well. I made my share of ugly form builders. But I believe I finally solved the problem. It was so exciting that it will soon be available as a stand alone product.

Take 1:

In 1999, while I was still a Computer Science student, I have written the first version of Profile Manager web script. I wanted it to be generic so that you could define your own profile fields and make a form for it. You had to basically open a configuration file in text editor and type your form fields in it.

It was ugly. First of all, the users had all kinds of troubles that might be caused by letting them modify the source code. ☺ They sometimes missed a comma or uploaded the file to their server in binary form. If you modify a UNIX file in Windows, and save it, Windows will add some binary characters on it. Then if you upload it back to your UNIX server in binary format, these characters somehow will prevent your executable file to be run.

Another problem was that users had to understand HTML forms. They could create their forms in an HTML editor, but they will needed to modify it manually and make it match with the profile fields in the configuration file. So, this wasn’t event a form builder.

Take 2:

In 2000, I graduated and started working full-time for Internet.com (now Jupitermedia). One of the first tasks I was working on was to help Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch to make user surveys. Even though these scripts were simple formmails, I wanted to make them generic so that I don’t have to rewrite them. So, this time I took a different approach. I made the script smart so that the person who makes the form does not have to do anything else. When a form is first time submitted, the data structure for it was created and each form was logged on separate delimited files.

It seemed like a smart solution at the time but this approach had its own problems. The users had difficulty testing it. You had to go though a lot of steps to check if everything was properly working. This is one of the greatest things about WYSIWYG systems, you can instantly see the final result. Quicker the interface responds to the user, better the UI.

Take 3:

My next take was for a membership software I develop.

Profile Manager Premium 2 had a simple but effective form builder. This time it built forms and generated HTML code for you. It made things very easy for the user. You could add, modify and delete fields, and a form was generated according to your specifications. This was a hit with the users. They loved it. This tool is probably better than most of the current form builders on the web, but it was still ugly. It is just not natural to make a form without instantly seeing your changes. If we call JotForm web 2.0, that was web 1.0.

Take 4:

My next form builder was for an internal application I worked on Jupitermedia called ACDC. I looked for ways to make it look and feel like a real application. This was 2004, JavaScript was slightly gaining popularity but still too much of it was considered harmful and seen as hack. With the Gmail and AJAX being introduced suddenly winds started changing direction. Still, it was too early. Drag and drop wasn’t very easy.

Final Take: JotForm

This brings us to the new web application I will be introducing in next couple of days. JotForm is completely web based WYSIWYG form builder that supports:

Drag-and-drop
Instant Edit
Ajax
This article is originally published on Oct 21, 2005, and updated on Dec 28, 2020.
AUTHOR
Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com

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