Wufoo is a new form-based data-entry application for collecting and tracking data via the Web. A unique feature of the application is the ease with which the forms you design can be embedded in an IFrame of a Web page or blog entry by copying the IFrame's HTML from a window that opens when you click the Code link (below) to your page. (Click the image to display the full-size version.)
You also can invite individuals to fill out the form by creating a list of email recipients:
As an example, the following simple form collects new customer information in fields similar to those for the Northwind sample database's Customers table. The form validates fields marked with a red asterisk as required. Controls with missing required values turn red when the user tries to submit the form. (The extra space at the bottom of the form accommodates the depth added by error messages.)
Note: While writing this post, the Wufoo server died temporarily; however, the site appears to have been reliable for the past few days. TechCrunch's Marshall Kirkpatrick had a similar 404 experience but gave Wufoo high marks for usability.
When the user complete the entries and clicks Submit, Wufoo acknowledges the submission with a message box. If you're using a free account, which limits you to three forms, you're then hit with barrage of Wufoo advertising pages. If you mark the E-Mail New Entries checkbox and supply an e-mail address, you recieve a UTF-8 e-mail message similar to that below for each entry.
Users can enter and edit data at the Wufoo site with a form similar to that shown here, which includes a Yahoo! map mashup for the location specified in the Address control. If you want to restrict data entry to designated users, you must have a paid Wufoo account. The free account enables everyone or just the administrative user to enter or edit form data.
The Wufoo design canvas lets you choose from a variety of controls, as shown here for the New Customer form. Special-purpose controls—such as Date, Time, Phone, Address, and Website—appear to be unique to Wufoo and a few competitors' forms. You can rearrange the vertical sequence of controls by dragging, but a control occupies the entire width of the form, regardless of the width of its text box or other widget.
You also can create a basic report based on the "dataset" for form entries. Reports that involve numeric values can display basic bar and pie charts. The Report Manager lets you export reports to local files in Excel or CSV format.
Wufoo has four levels of paid services ranging from US$9 for 500 entries to US$199 for unlimited entries per month. Paid plans also provide access to customer support, the capability to upload files together with form data, an option to redirect to a designated URL after submission, and password protection of forms and reports.
Caution: Wufoo invokes a severe penalty—more akin to a fine—if you don't pay upfront for a sufficient number of form entries per month. Wufoo charges a fee of $0.05 per entry ($50.00/M) for exceeding the number of entries allowed by the plan. The ordinary cost per thousand entries (CPM) ranges from $4.60 for the $69/month to $18.00 for the $9/month plan.
Competiton from InfoPath 2007 and Access 2007
InfoPath provides very sophisticated data validation and verification features but isn't easily or cheaply adapted to hosted systems for extranets or the Internet. You can add InfoPath 2007 form rendering capability to Web pages by the techniques described in MSDN's "Hosting the InfoPath 2007 Form Editing Environment in a Custom Web Form" technical paper. However, you'll need InfoPath Forms Services running on the Web server, which requires a license for either Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 or Office Forms Server (MOFS) 2007. (MOSS and MOFS provide InfoPath Forms Services to render the form in a browser with the XmlFormView control.) You also need to program the XmlFormView control to handle data transfer, which isn't a walk in the park. The InfoPath 2007 client is integrated into the Outlook 2007 e-mail environment. Wufoo doesn't require software licenses but submission costs can become substantial for a large organization unless you opt for the unlimited $199.00/month option.
Note: InfoJetSoft offers InfoJet Service—a .NET class library that enables publishing InfoPath 2003 SP1 forms to Web sites for user data entry in IE 6.0 or Firefox. InfoJet Server is an ASP.NET Web application that delivers InfoPath forms to users for data entry, local storage, or e-mail transmission. InfoJet EditPart is a set of Web Parts for SharePoint data entry. The license fees for InfoJet Service is $500 for 10 forms (XSNs), $1,500 for 50 forms, and $5,000 for an unlimited number of forms. There's no charge for submissions.
Microsoft Access 2007 offers an Outlook 2007-based e-mail data-entry system that uses HTML or InfoPath 2007 forms to automatically add to or edit tables of an Access 2007 (.accdb) or SQL Server 2005 [Express] database, or a SharePoint list. Users can complete HTML forms in any forms-enabled e-mail application but HTML e-mail must be enabled, which some organizations prohibit. Filling out InfoPath forms requires the InfoPath 2007 client application to be installed on the user's computer. You must send update or insert forms to specific users for completion. Outlook 2007 is required to export the returned form's data to Access 2007, so Microsoft Office 2007 Professional Edition will be required for HTML forms and Professional Plus Edition for InfoPath forms.
AJAXian and Other Web Competitors
The online forms business—if this crowded category can truly be called a business—got a lift in early 2006 from AJAX technologies. Recent AJAXian entrants include:
- Formspring offers substantially lower pricing ($50.00/month for unlimited responses) but fewer features than Wufoo.
- Form Assembly's Formbuilder has a $9.00 per month charge for unlimited responses. Formbuilder has posted a preview of a new version that offers predefined fields, more than one control per line, and table layout.
- JotForm, a script.aculo.us-based free (at least for now) form generator that lets you edit the form's HTML and CSS, as well as paste it to a Web page.
- Theblueform is a combinaton Web form and workflow (approval) designer.
- Sidewalk delivers a basic form-generation and response-storage service for $3.00 per month.
- Wyanet's WyaCracker offers free processing and features similar to JotForm, plus reports in RSS, XML, or HTML format, but the site's garish UI is likely to put off most users.
- Starterbase is a forms-based startup that offers a $49.99 per year unlimited forms and users account with CSV data import and export, Excel import, and XML export. Free accounts allow five applications and public access or three designated users.
Note: My March, 2006 "Dabble DB: The New Look in Web Databases" post describes many of the Web-based data-entry services that compete with Wufoo: DabbleDB, QuickBase, eUnify DB, Caspio Express DB, eCriteria, HTML DB, Google Base, Lazybase and Zoho Creator. The June 27, 2006 "Generate Data-Based Web Sites With Blinq" post describes a preview version of a forthcoming ASP.NET 3.0 tool for Visual Studio "Orcas" that generates in less than a minute a complete data-entry and reporting Web site for multiple relational tables in SQL Server 2005 [Express] databases.
Please leave a comment if I've missed any recently-released AJAXian form builders.
I agree with Marshall Kirkpatrick, Derek Punsalan, Jason Bagley, and others that Wufoo does Web data-entry forms right. Users can create and test their own custom form much more quickly than a corresponding InfoPath form, and the data is far more accessible to most information workers as an Excel or CSV file than an XML document or Access 2007 table. However, the Wufoo folks should rethink the draconian monthly fine for users who exceed their payment plan's maximum entries.
Wufoo might consider a more enterprise-scale name for their service ... but who anticipated that a company named Google would end up with a greater market cap than General Motors?
[Updated 7/11/2006 and 7/12/2006]
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