technaut (technaut) wrote,

Online Form Design.

This is an idea I had a number of years ago, but that I shelved because the then-current state of the art in interactive websites wouldn't easily support the idea. Now that AJAX has become the next big thing, it would seem to be time to dust it off and take another look at it.

The general concept is to produce a website that allows one to easily generate complex forms. By 'complex' I mean things that are beyond the abilities of plain HTML, and that require a constraint engine. With a constraint engine you can say things like "All columns are to be sized so that they are wider than their contents" and have it handle all the picky details, including having intelligent defaults when the constraint turns out to be impossible to satisfy.

I had originally thought that OpenAmulet would be the perfect constraint engine to use for this task, but that project seems to be moribund. Nevertheless, there are other alternatives.

In any case, one would go to the website and construct forms and pages for all sorts of endeavours: graph paper (polar, log/log, hierarchical hex, whatever), personal planner pages (such as Day Runner and Day Timer produce), various sorts of calendars, project planning schedules, Role-playing character sheets, etc.

These forms could have a certain amount of intelligence behind them so that a Monthly Calendar form could configure itself for any given month, or instead, a form could be parameterized by what particular customizations you might want to add on a case-by-case basis (such as a company logo).

These forms could be downloaded both in their native language (which would only really be useful for archival purposes) or as PostScript or PDF files. These latter formats would allow one to print the forms locally whenever needed.

Registered users would be able to store the forms they created on the website, for later re-use, or for sharing purposes. Users would be able to generate lists of useful (to them) forms and rate the value of different forms produced. One could also search for existing public forms rather than make your own.

The most popular forms would get showcased on the main page, as would their designers.

The site would make money by advertising a number of paper and stationary related services and supplies, and would also have an agreement with a printing company to produce and ship short-run sets of forms on demand. Thus, although you could design and download a bizarre hex-based polar-log chart for free, if you needed several thousand copies, or cardboard-backed pads of the forms, you could buy that through the website.
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