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Google Docs’ New Forms Feature: Good, but Not Great

Google recently announced a new “Forms” feature for their popular Google Docs Spreadsheet. This feature allows you to create a form which can be emailed to people so that they can enter data into the Form, click a “Submit” button, and have their data automatically entered into a spreadsheet.

While this is a very handy feature, there are a couple of things about it which are less than ideal from my perspective.

The main drawback is that some email clients do not allow one to submit Forms data from within an email. More specifically, they don’t allow so-called “POST” type Form submissions, which is a common method for submitting data to a server for processing, and the method which Google uses. I tried to submit Form data using Thunderbird, Outlook Express, and Safari, and none of them worked, and I’ve read that Outlook and Hotmail also do not allow Form submission. (Gmail seems to handle it just fine.) While this is not exactly the end of the world, as Google also helpfully provides a link to the form where you can enter your data using your browser, it definitely lessens the wow factor. Plus, it would be a drag for a user to enter all their data in their email form, click “Submit,” and then be told, “Sorry, you’ll need to enter all your data again in your browser.”

It’s also not clear if there is a limit to the number of people to whom you can email the form. A Google Spreadsheet can have an unlimited number of “collaborators,” but Google doesn’t say whether that means you can invite an unlimited number of people to fill out your Google Form.

The major benefit that I can see with the Google Form is that it allows you to easily collect data from people and have them do all of your data entry for you. All you have to do is set up the spreadsheet, create the form, and email it to them. When they enter their data and click the “Submit” button, it’s automatically entered into your spreadsheet with no further work required on your part. While this can be done in other ways (see, for example, one of my earlier posts), Google’s Form feature definitely makes this easy for non-programmers.

Until this problem of submitting data from within email clients is fixed, if you decide to use this new Forms feature be sure to let your email recipients know that certain email clients don’t support Forms submission, so if they’re using one of those clients they might want to just click on the link and enter their data using their browser. And if they do decide to use the email form, they’ll need to make sure they get a confirmation page after submitting their data to make sure that the submission process actually worked.

5 Responses to “Google Docs’ New Forms Feature: Good, but Not Great”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The problem lies within the email clients, not Google Doc’s form app. Stop using obsolete email clients. Gmail + Gears FTW

  2. Lance Bledsoe says:

    Good point. It may be that Google was aiming at just this sort of “less formal” audience for its Forms feature. Let me know what you find out.

  3. Justine says:

    All depends on the size and type of audience – I’m thinking of testing the 2 way approach with my bookclub – my favorite guinea pigs who always needs help coordinating and making decisions, thus the form will be handy, but also a great real life sample of various email hosts and computer saavy and patience. 😉

  4. Lance Bledsoe says:

    I think the problem is more in the email clients (e.g., Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc.) than the email providers (e.g., Yahoo), which would make me think that email forms submitted via a webmail application would work fine, though Hotmail would appear to be an exception to this. My guess is that there is some security reason for why email clients don’t want to allow you to submit forms data, but I don’t know what that reason is.

    Both the “2 versions” approach and the “email me the data” approach would work, but they’re both inconvenient, one for the data provider and one for the data collector. Until I feel reasonably certain that all (or at least most) of my email recipients can submit their data via their email client, I’d prefer to just email them the link and say “Please click here to enter your data.”

  5. Justine says:

    So, I’m curious which besides gmail will allow form submissions? Yahoo and AOL perhaps?
    Could create 2 versions of a form – one for those with email extensions known to work and one with a link to the spreadsheet inself perhaps or just a reply to self with answers, so they don’t have to log in.

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