Creating a form on the web in 2008

October 2, 2008

When I created my first web form in 1994, it seemed pretty straight forward.  Create a PERL script to parse out the post stream to validated the input from my web page’s text and select fields then append the data to a text file.

Today, that just seems dumb.  I hope nobody does that any more, because there are tools out there that make the is process easy.  Before I get to my shameless plug for my product’s new form builder, I want to look at a few things that we insisted were essential in a form builder in 2008.

Sorting input fields – In 2008, in a web browser, there is only one acceptable way of doing this… Drag and drop.  Anything that needs to be reordered, added to an option list, or removed from an option list, MUST USE DRAG AND DROP.

Input field types – We need many types of input beyond the normal text, mulit-line text, select box, check box, radio.  We want to include date pickers, multi-file upload, and predefined combination controls such as survey options.  All input fields must provide validation and clean end user feedback when a value is required or unacceptable.

Adding fields – This should be a simple process to pick several different types of fields at a time from a field palette, allowing the adjustment of field quantities.  This can not be a laborious “pick one field at a time” effort.

Notifications on submit – End users will often expect some type of e-mail notification upon completion of the form.  We found, even if you clearly describe on a confirmation screen that the form has been submitted and confirmed, users are still sometimes uncertain if they did the form submission correctly.  An e-mail always settles this fear.

Admin notification on submit – This one is pretty obvious.  It is not reasonable to go back and keep checking for new results in the data each day.  An e-mail notifying the admin that a form has been submitted is a best practice.

Optional form update – Users may need to come back and update their answers at a later time, the form must accommodate this at the option of the administrator.

Instructions – Allow rich text instructions to prefix the form, and in line notes and instructions to clarify the field’s required input.  Often it is hard to pick a label for a form field that is descriptive enough to clearly indicate what is needed.  Prefix this field with a note, and the user will be more likely to input what you need from them.

And last on this list, is Exporting form results -  This should be an easy process for getting the data into another system such as a database or spreadsheet.  Our first instinct was to create a bunch of on line reporting tools and graphs for people to use, but I believe this is not a good strategy.  Our customers just want to get the data into Excel or their own database/spreadsheet to they can use the data in a manner that they want.  You can view the report as HTML and download as CSV and XML both readily importable into Excel or other spreadsheets/databases.

Here’s the shameless plug… If you want a really easy way to create a form and collect information from people on the web, check out this viewlet to see how the form editor works in a Something On hosted website.  To create a Something On site for yourself (free with ads, or monthly pay for no-ads), get started here.

Ad supported hosting?

July 3, 2008

When we first started Something On, the vision was to be ad-free.  Our service is pretty good, and our customers feel good about paying for it. But, as we get to be a year old, many customers are hitting us with an issue.  They want to keep their legacy event sites up and are worried about a monthly hosting fee for a site that will remain largely unvisited – and simply alive as a reference for future event web sites.

We’re considering ‘archive pricing’… meaning we’ll cut the monthly hosting fee in lieu of a less active site.

In the mean time, we want to give ads a try.  We’ve signed up for Google ads and splash them on the header and main navigation of any ‘expired’ hosted event websites.  While we don’t really know what to expect as far as revenue goes…  It has already opened the door of a ‘free’ Something On level of service, where sites are ad supported right out of the gate.

We use a premium co-location provider, so bandwidth isn’t cheap…  We’ll wait and see if ad revenue can offset the hosting/bandwidth fees.

Something On v1.1.5 released

May 27, 2008

We recently released a new version of the Something On platform.  While it includes many tweaks and minor bug fixes, below are our favorite changes…

Page Editor
    We have a new page editor, with improved site linking and image/photo handling.  You can re-size the editor, make your changes, and preview right away.  Adding images is easier than ever with the Image/Photo Wizard, and linking within the site is now done through a Link wizard.

Photo Gallery

    We have recently deployed Photo Gallery functionality that allows you to create cool slide shows and photo galleries for your site.  This is available in Event Control Panel > Easy Setup > Photo Gallery.  Simply create a new Photo Gallery, then start uploading images.  The site takes care of creating thumbnail images, and when clicked on the published site, the site creates a slick slide show of all your gallery’s images.

Analytics

    We have added Google Analytics compatibility.  Google Analytics allows you to track your sites use by many metrics (geographically, by browser type, unique visitors, visit length, and much, much, more!)  Sign up for free at http://www.google.com/analytics/ then add your analytics ID to your Event’s web site in the Event Control Panel > Advanced > Google Analytics. 

3rd Party Registration Systems

    If your company already has an on line registration system or provider, you can use 3rd party registration systems with your Something On hosted Event website.  Go to Event Control Panel > Easy Setup > Registration > 3rd Party and paste in the link to your existing registration page.  Your page will automatically be displayed in place of our default registration page.

Social Bookmarking & RSS

    Social Bookmarking and RSS are very popular methods for monitoring new additions to web sites, and broadcasting an event web site’s existence and relevance to the a large audience.  You can now enable Social Bookmarking and RSS by going to Event Control Panel > Advanced > Web 2.0

More

    The Easy Setup interface has been changed to provide more clarity when navigating through the wizard, and easier access to navigation buttons.  The Event Control Panel homepage now has some useful widgets to identify recent site activity.  Any newly created event is now pre-populated with content, to give you better guidance as to where your Easy Setup content lives on your event web site.

Thank-you

Thank you for creating your Event website with Something On. We will continue to strive to make our service the most cost-effective and easiest way to promote your Event on the web!

Exporting your registrations, surveys, and form data to Excel from Something On

May 21, 2008

While a Something On hosted site provides reporting for form submissions, surveys, and registrations, we believe you can do more with programs like excel for reporting purposes, printing badges, etc.  So, we provide two export mechanisms, XML and CSV.  Both of these formats readily export to Excel.  Here’s how:

To export to Excel:
- Go to the Control Panel > “Registration & Forms” : “Your Form Name” form to display the table of form completions
- Right Click on “Download as CSV” and select “Save Target As” (Internet Explorer) or “Save Link As” (Firefox)
- Save the document to your desktop, give it a name something like “Registrations.txt”
 
- Start MS Excel
- From the file menu, Open the Registrations.txt file
 
- (This will start the “text Import wizard”)
 
- The file type is “delimited” (Click Next)
- The delimiter is “Comma” (Click Next)
- Click finish

Changing your Something On Hosted Event Theme

January 30, 2008

The default theme for any new Event created with the Something On Event Easy Setup, is “Funky-Pro”.  We called it that because in our opinion it looks both professional and, of course, funky.  But, we know that “professional and funky” won’t apply to every Event Website.  Therefore, we created customizable event Themes.

Once you’ve created your Something On Event Website, you can change the theme to one of the available themes by following these steps:

1.       From your event website homepage, click on “Event Control Panel”

2.       Click “Easy Setup”

3.       In the Easy Setup banner navigation, click the “Appearance” icon.

4.       You will now see many themes under the “Available Themes” header.  Click the “Use This Theme” button under the theme that you wish to use for your event.

5.       In the Easy Setup banner navigation click the “Exit” icon to return to your event homepage to see your event with the new theme.

Some themes work with fixed and/or fluid page widths.  I recommend experimenting with the themes to see what fits your content best.  Generally people browsing your site will have a monitor that supports 1024×768 pixels, so that is a pretty standard option.  But, if your audience may have smaller monitors, or if you simply don’t have that much content on your event site, 800×600 might be just what you need.

You will notice that you do not need to “publish” a theme change.  If you want to see how your site looks with each of the different themes, you can do a trick where you have two browsers (or browser tabs) open.  The first browser with your event homepage, the second with the Easy Setup : Appearance : Theme page opened.  As you click “Use This Theme” for each available theme, go back to the browser with your event homepage and hit refresh.  You will immediately see the theme with your new content.

Example:

Site with default “Funky-Pro” theme.

 Homepage with Image

Site with “New Hampshire” theme.

 Event with New Hampshire Theme

Next: For Advanced Users Only:

I mentioned that themes are “Customizable”.  This is a bit of an advanced task that can be done by your web-developer friends/staff/consultants, or by me for your Event website.  We can take and existing theme, and change it to include your colours, images, and layout by adding additional “Cascading Style Sheet” information.  I’ll write an upcoming blog article about doing this, but if you want to play with this advanced capability go to Easy Setup : Appearance : Custom, add a new custom theme, launch the theme editor and edit the CSS.  Click save when done and close the editor browser.   Go back to Easy Setup : Appearance : Custom and click the “Use” button for your custom theme.   Now your Event website will load your custom CSS after the built in Theme CSS, allowing you to change what you need to change to get your desired look and feel.

Adding an Image to your Something On Event Homepage

January 29, 2008

While our Something On themes are nice, a Something On hosted Event Website just won’t look as cool as it can without some customer provided images.  Adding an image to your Event Website is pretty easy, but it does involve following a few steps that I feel are not 100% intuitive to most users.

I put together a flash demonstration of the functionality provided to upload an image.  Please watch it before trying to upload images. The event I created in yesterday’s post will be used.

Homepage without Image: Homepage of the event website

Homepage with Image: Homepage with Image

The flash demonstration does mention that we recommend you edit your image files (jpeg, gif, or png) before uploading them to Something On.  There are countless tools out there (like Adobe Photoshop Elements, or perhaps your computer came with Image editing software installed) that can convert your large images from your digital camera to a size more suitable for the web.  Your web pages will load faster – so users of your Event website will appreciate it if you take some time to make the images smaller in size before uploading them to the site.   While there may be lots of debate out there as to what is the maximum acceptable size for an image on your website, I’d like to suggest that 640×480 pixels and/or 100kB should be just about the largest you need for most images.  Any image larger than 100kB is just too large, so please take some time and get to know an image editor that can export images to web friendly sizes.

Your first Something On Event Website

January 28, 2008

We’ll start simple, creating a simple homepage for your Event Web Site

What you need: 

·         A description of your event.

·         The location of your event

Step 1 - Start the easy setup https://www.somethingon.com/easysetup/

Easy Setup

Your title can be anything longer than one character.  Your “Web Address” should be at least 7 lower case alpha characters (numbers are ok too) with no spaces or punctuation.  The “Web Address” is used by web browsers to find the site, so it must adhere to these rules.  Also, if your Web Address is already in use by another Something On customer, you may need to change yours.

Click “Get Started” when you are happy with the Title and Web Address

Step 2 - Create Your Profile

Create Your Profile

If you do not have a Something On profile, use the “Create Your Profile” form.  Please use a valid e-mail address.  You must choose a username that is at least 6 characters in length.  We recommend using your primary e-mail address as a username. 

Please read and accept the terms of use by checking the checkbox.  Click “Sign Up Now” when you are happy with your user profile information.  The form will remind you if any profile information is incorrect, or if your username is already in use.

Continue Page

Once your profile is created, you can create your event by clicking the “Continue” button.

Step 3 – Your event has been created

Your Event Has Been Created

Cool .  You can now start sharing the URL with your friends if you like.  The Event website is now live on the Web.  But, the site will be pretty empty at this point, so let’s add a little more information.  Follow the “click here to continue following the interview style event Easy Setup.” Link to add more information to your Event Website.

Step 4 - The welcome page.

Please read it.  It sets your expectations.  We are going to be done our first event website here in about 5 minutes, but if you want to add a bunch of speakers, sponsors, etc. later, it’ll take longer.

Click “Next” when you are ready to continue.

Step 5 – Details : Title

On each of these interview style pages, you have the option of changing the information and clicking the orange “Save” button, or leave it the way it is by clicking the blue “Back”, “Skip”, or “Next” buttons.  You should now be on the “Details : Title” page, we don’t need to change this value, so click “Skip”.

Step 6 - Details : Description

 Description

Type in the description of your event.  The more detail, the better.  I’m going to cheat and put in some filler text, just to show you how it can look.  I typed in the first line, then selected “Heading 1” from the Format drop down.  Then I pasted in some filler text below.  (Note: if you paste, your browser may prompt you to see if you want to paste from your clipboard onto the website.  Select “Allow” if this happens, or simply type in the description you want.

Important:  Click “Save”.  If you don’t, and you leave this page, the site will abandon your changes.

Click “Next”

Step 7 – Details : Location

Edit where in the world your event takes place

Select from the dropdown where in the world your event is taking place.  When complete, click “Save”. 

Important:  Once saved, we are going to skip ahead to Publish.  Click the “Publish” icon in the main banner of the site.

Step 8 - Publish

Publish

Often, you will want to make many changes to your event website, and possibly review them, before you want your website users to see the changes.  The Publish mechanism allows this.  Any changes you make to web site content will not be displayed to users of your site, until you click the big orange Publish button on this page.

Click the publish button.  Once you see the “Publish successful” feedback, click the “Next” button.

Step 9 – Thank-you

You are done! You now have a basic Event Website.   Click the blue “Exit” button to have a look.

Homepage of the event website

You can return to the Easy Setup by clicking the “Event Control Panel” link, then follow the “Easy Setup” link in the Control Panel.

Something On

January 24, 2008

After a year of market research, assistance from friends and family, and product R&D, Something On is ready to be launched.

Something On is a product that event planners use to create Event Websites.  The goal was to create very professional, full-featured event web sites that can be created and managed with the same minimal skill set required for creating an e-mail or using Microsoft Word™.

I have always been impressed with the simplicity of products like tax-preparation software. (Quick tax, UFile, etc.)  They take a complex task like income tax preparation, and simplify it into an easy interview process that generates the forms and submits them for you.  I believed that this process could be applied to creating and maintaining web sites.

We created the Interview-Style Easy Setup for Event Website Creation based upon the principles that an easy interview process, combined with the automated website generation and publication, would allow an average Internet user to create an effective web site.

If you are involved in the planning or promotion of events, either large or small, this product may be an easy alternative to engaging web design firms.  We are confident it will be easier to build a website with Something On than delegating to your in-house technical staff (if you have any).  We are certain that the quality of the product will exceed what your friend or relative, who builds websites part-time for your event, might be able to achieve.

Please check it out.

Cheers,

Jason Cassidy, Something On Creator


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