One of the most common functions of a Web site is to gather data. Building forms absorbs a huge amount of time and energy if you try to do it "old school" by which I mean getting out your Web content editor and wrangling HTML in an attempt to produce an effective form. Making the results look good is even harder.
There are some editing tools, both online and desktop applications, that will help build HTML forms but to build a really good-looking, easy-to-use and "intelligent" forms you need to turn to a Flash-based solution.
Today's focus, PerfectForms, does just that. Launched as a beta in September '08 and fully released in December of that year, PerfectForms (PF) provides a graphical editor with which to build and modify your forms all delivered through either a hosted or in-house Web service.
Something that impresses me is that PF sees forms not just as forms but as workflows and integrates them with databases, Web services, text files, directory services, as well as other forms. This allows for complex, data-driven systems of forms to implement complex business processes.
PerfectForms offers a huge number of form components that range from the normal form elements such as labels and text fields to advanced features such as timers and CAPTCHA controls. PF also allows you to attach "behaviors" to form components so that, for example, mousing over an image can reveal a set of hidden fields.
When a form is completed or individual components or groups of components are used you can have a notification generated in the dashboard log and or by e-mail.
PF forms can be embedded in Web pages hosted on other servers and there's an optional lookup agent component to control access on an IP restriction basis so you can create a secure integration with in-house systems.
PerfectForms also offers API access so that you can create new form instances (analogous to creating a database entry), populate form fields of an instance with data, update existing form fields in already submitted instances, delete a form instance, and read data from an existing form instance (i.e. read a database record).
Another thing that impresses me about PerfectForms is that they "get" something that so many online utility services fail to get: That look and feel really matter. These are issues that profoundly affect how your product is perceived by users and both the forms that PerfectForms generates as well as the editor interface are great looking.
That's not to say the product is perfect yet – there are a few user interface issues that need to be resolved but even so, the current version of PerfectForms is still perhaps the most advanced product of its kind in the market.
PerfectForms currently has more than 2,500 users including NASA, the Forestry Service, and most major banks.
Pricing for the hosted service is by "designer", that is, each person who manages and edits forms, at a very reasonable $30 per month per seat.
If you'd prefer to run PerfectForms on your own server (requires Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or 2008, .Net 2.0 framework, IIS with ASP.net v2.0, MSSQL Server 2005 SP3 or MSSQL 2008, and an SMTP/IMAP service) the price is $600 per designer seat.