JotForm Launch and First Impressions

Launching a new site is always fun and exciting. You put a lot of hard work on something and have that great feeling of accomplishment. At the same time there is that scary feeling that something might go terribly wrong. And it sometimes really does happen.

My worst war story was TheCounter launch on the post bubble days. The site had over 2 million free users and our company, mostly depending on advertising model, was bleeding for cash. We had to turn it into a paid site. However the code was impossible to change. Written on pre-PHP days, it was implemented as an Apache C module and had HTML code all over the web server code. If you wanted to make a word bold on a page, you had to recompile Apache and restart web servers on three machines.

I have rewritten the C code as a PHP extension. So you could call the C code from your PHP files like any other PHP functions. This way we did not have to embed the business or presentation logic into the web server. It was a lot of fun work. Well, until the launch date. :) We had sent mailings to announce that TheCounter was to become paid. The traffic skyrocketed, and Mysql database that handled the logins choked. The server that handled logins came to a crawl until we setup a new powerful machine and moved the Mysql there. It was a long night, but everything seemed to start working.

Then came the worst bug I have ever encountered in my career. The kind that happens out of blue and corrupts data. It was impossible to catch in happening. Out of thousands of transaction, one happened and it caused us lose a user’s data. It was a two weeks of nightmare. Have you experienced having trouble sleeping and taking a Tylenol PM. Then you still cannot sleep but feel like a zombie because you cannot feel your body. Fortunately there were ways to fix the damage, I have written tools to backup and restore corrupted accounts quickly. After two weeks of trying out everything, our genius DBA Peter came up with a theory. The application was doing a lot of seek and write. According to him it was possible for Linux to be losing buffer data right before it is committed to the hard disk. It was easy to apply the fix, I have changed the code to flush the buffer instantly on the write, instead of letting the OS handle it. And wow, the bug was gone, the corruptions stopped.

During a site launch, one of my secret tricks is to stream the error log on one screen and have the source code on another. I can see the errors while happening and sometimes fix it before the user tries to run the same page again. Unfortunately this trick did not do much good for JotForm since most of the code is executed on the browser. I wish it was possible to see JavaScript errors back on a server log. Has anybody implemented an AJAX exception handler to send error messages back to the server?

The interest for JotForm has blown away my expectations. I am not that experienced or popular on blogosphere so my only promotion was to send couple of emails and two forum posts.

Forms Created 3,611
User Accounts 562
Form Submissions 346
Technorati hits 35

I have received a lot of good feedback:

  • Damien Katz suggested integration with a database engine. He is working on something similar. I have also done something very similar with PM Premium Application Builder.
  • On an interesting turn of events, clickspice asked for comparisons with a possible competitor FormAssembly. I told him about how I felt when I first encountered the FormAssembly version 2 news and how we are different. Then Cédric, developer of FormAssembly, joined the discussion and said “now you’ve got me motivated, so keep an eye for it”. He has been doing such great job without my motivation, now I should probably really watch out. :)
  • Received lots of good feedback on Business of software forum JotForm review thread
  • Received feedback on various places about JotForm about lacking XHTML support, usage of tables instead of CSS and usability labels. I agree with them all wholeheartly and promise to work on them.
  • Joe Drumgoole thinks JotForm is very funky
  • Google’s Open source program manager Chris DiBona was also excited.
  • Gadgetopia review calls JotForm “insane JavaScript form builder”.
  • Sr-ultimate review thinks JotForm has a very neat interface.
  • JustAddWater – Instant Usability & Web Standards blog has a usability review, and calls JotForm “All updates appear instantly in the interface. It’s really nice done.”
  • Martin on his Beyond The Type blog thinks “There is a high demand for this kind of widget in the web sphere.”
  • Rich Ziade calls JotForm “a neat little form builder with drag & drop support.”

14 Responses to “JotForm Launch and First Impressions”

  1. ignazio says:

    Wow!!
    I’ve just tested JotForm and it’s such an useful thing!

    I’m afraid I’m going to use it very much!

  2. Markb says:

    Very cool tool. I think there’s a misspelling in the subject of this post – just wanted you to catch it so that you’ll keep the great look and polish you’ve achieved with the product. jotfrom -> jotform…

  3. Aytekin says:

    Thanks Mark. Fixed.

  4. DavidN says:

    I really really like JotForm alot. Exactly what I have been looking for. Is there a way to send to multiple email addresses?

    Thank you!!
    david

  5. jotformjoe says:

    jotform is awesome. Not sure of the business model, but it’s good work.

    I’m not a spelling nazi, but I cringed at “carer” in a bold headline in the article. (it’s “career”) You may want to just quickly run your blog through a spell checker, just to add to your professional image. Jotform is really cool, and I’d hate for you to lose your audience due to the misspellings.

    For a business model, I suggest you remove the “free for beta”, and make it free for all. You want market share, huge, fast. You want to be the de facto form collector on the web. Provide people with the “link” to their specialty form (you may already do this, but it wasn’t obvious to me, in a quick click through). In other words, say I want to put a quick survey or data collection item on my blog or web page. I need the link to go straight to my custom-created form. I’m sure that’s your plan, and maybe you need to let dummies like me know how to do it.

    Then you can make your money off of the LARGER downloads or businesses. (or ads?) but you want the little guy to know that they can ALWAYS use your product for free, so you can get the masses to use it.

    This reminds me a lot of “surveymonkey” – another form builder, which has “skins” and a custom form builder and a way to capture / download the data (with graphs?). You may want to check out that site. As I recall, they figured out a business model.

    Notee how their home page gives you MUCH more info that yours curently does. But your interface for creating the simple form ROCKS.

    Good luck to you. I may be back, looking to license your technology! (Start thinking about licensing pricing for someone who wants to integrate it into their own product…..)

  6. Aytekin says:

    jotformjoe, that was a very thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

    I agree with everything you are saying, except one part. You have given the surveymonkey homepage example, and some others also said similar things. But during last week I thought about this and decided that JotForm homepage is probably the best thing happened to it. If I just put a marketing talk and ask people to sign up just to try it out, I don’t think it would have received this much of attention. Here is why:

    1. JOTFORM.COM IS THE APPLICATION. If you are a web designer and would like to just design a form, I want you to type “jotform.com” instead of firing up DreamWeaver or FrontPage. Or if you are like me vim. :)

    2. JOTFORM.COM IS THE DEMO. If you are interested in finding a form builder/processor, I want you to have a chance to try it before committing. I don’t want to waste your time with registration. Last couple of days I am trying to submit JotForm on some webmaster sites. It is a big pain. All of them first want me to create an account. Then want me to verify my email to go to my gmail account and clicking on a link. And couple of them actually did not even work. I have spent like 10 minutes on a site and was unsuccessful at signing up and gave up. Come-on, all I am trying to do is to submit a listing to your database so that you can better serve your visitors and earn money from banners. :)

    3. GOOGLE EFFECT: Google did not put a gazillion links on their homepage like all other search engines at the time and users loved it. Google’s homepage keeps the attention at the task. Google respects the users and not try to trick them into doing something else. I just like that attitude.

  7. Ajaxian says:

    Attack of the Ajax form builders

    Rapid form development with Ajax: JotForms, FormBuilder, and Wufoo

  8. Darren Fast says:

    Amazing. I was able to quickly create a form, and put it up on my blog without reading a manual. Very intuitive! I hope your venture succeeds.

  9. karen says:

    JotForm is GREAT! It was just the ticket for a solution I had to create for our cash strapped school of education — why? because it’s easy to use and allows for an Excel or CSV download! PLEASE, please, please keep it free for us educators! Best of luck!
    Karen

  10. Richard says:

    we are preparing to launch a big DVD project for internet marketers [http://moneydvdrom.com] and of course they all will need forms. I was inquiring if you had considered licensing your script? my thought was to integrate the form creation and storage as a feature on http://moneydvdservices.com which is our hosting and script installation site. Otherwise our plan is to include a link to your site within the dealer instructions

  11. Tony Y. says:

    I want to add a new one called Nenest which is very powerful. You can get rich text editor field for a form, create email alerts, attach files, do full text searching, payment gateway …

    And it provides RSS feed, Digg and delicious button for social networking. From them, Nenest is not only a form build, but a real Form Server which you can use to host and store all kinds of information like BLOG, forum, bug database, accounting, online store… and a complete web 2.0 website.

  12. Priya says:

    i found a much better form/survey builder than survey monkey and that is stellarsurvey com with more features and better interface

  13. I use survey monkey, but jotform offers a quick and easy form. Like it. Its strength is its simplicity.

  14. VIBHAV says:

    test comment

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