Adaptive web forms

October 19, 2009

I believe it’s general knowledge that nobody likes filling in web forms. Neither you, nor me. The longer and more complicated the form, the more repellent it is to users. Understandable. Here, I’d like to present a concept which is very interesting to me – adaptive web forms.

For example, I’m a regular blog reader and often comment on them. This means that every time I have to enter my name, e-mail and url before posting a comment. Browsers do help here, however, by remembering data I’ve previously entered, but I still have to fill these fields in. Some blogs don’t even offer this.

Remember my input

You may have noticed that once you comment on any of my blog posts, your data is saved and the next time you visit it has already been filled in. This is a way in which regular readers are enabled to quickly post comments. However, besides saving just data, the whole of user interface can be adapted to provide a different kind of interaction for returning readers.

Here is the case: the idea is to save the data that I’ve entered when I visited a blog for the first time (eg. using a cookie). It is also a good idea to inform visitors that the data is going to be saved for next time. In the example above, the message is next to the title “Add comment”. The data is automatically filled in the next time I visit. However, it can also be hidden. The image below is showing a case of returning to the above blog.


As the data is read from the cookie, it can be saved to a database together with the comment, and almost the whole form (4 fields) can be hidden and replaced with the message “Welcome again”. In this way, I would be not only focused on leaving the comment but it would affect the overall user experience. At least, I think so.

Of course, in case you want to change your data, you can do so at any time by using a link on the right hand side of the welcome message (this message could be more meaningful, but you get it). By clicking that link, the hidden fields would become visible and the welcome message would be hidden.

Potential problems

Adaptive user interfaces in general have one serious problem – learnability. Users must constantly adapt (remember Microsoft Office Adaptive menus, they were discarded). But I don’t see this will be a big problem here. However, there is another potential problem here, and that’s trust ie. privacy. Advanced users understand how this data is kept, but some users would definitely pose a question.

Both these problems have a solution in adding a “Remember my personal details” checkbox instead of a message that data is to be saved. This way, the control is back in the user’s hands, which should be a rule. A short survey, I conducted, confirmed this. Around 76% of users surveyed thought this option as the best one, 20% consider a message to be enough while 4% don’t think this feature is necessary at all. Ok, I know that survey is not the best tool, but it’s still better than nothing.


In the end, I think this is one way web forms could adapt to us instead of us adapting to them. Still, my enthusiasm to shorten the time spent in filling in web forms aside, this should definitely be tested. Do adaptive web forms make sense to you and do you know some other examples?

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  • Kyle Baley (October 19, 2009)

    The privacy issue isn’t a big one for me. But if I saw a comment form with just a big textarea, I’d be thrown off and it would take a few seconds to realize it remembered me (’cause I’d very likely ignore the text above it). Even after that, I’d wonder if it had my correct information. On a comment form like this, it’s not a big deal because the information I enter doesn’t change often. But for others, where you provide a phone number or address, I’d always have to click the link to see what information is stored.

    In short, I find it more comforting to see what data is being sent, even if I don’t change it. Maybe one option is to display the data, but in labels instead of textboxes, so that it could be condensed.

  • Michael Dubakov (October 19, 2009)

    I like the idea. One solution to "en after that, I’d wonder if it had my correct information." It is good to show person photo. WordPress does this well. When I want to add a comment and see my photo below, I am pretty sure that I logged in correctly.

  • Dmitry (October 19, 2009)

    This is a very good idea. The best solution is a service that lets you log in once and then shares your details across the whole of the Web, like OpenID — but unfortunately that’s still a long way away, if it even ever happens, and so this is actually a great intermediate solution. Re-filling the same comment forms all the time is annoying and it’s actually really nice to see some forms remember your details — actually, I don’t see that many at all, but here’s one on this site :) Technology should automate as much of your work as possible, so this is definitely the right approach.

    I agree with Kyle: I think it should show a bit more than just your name though. In comment forms for example it also sends an email and a website usually, so it should list them too underneath (not pre-filled items in fields, just listed as a couple of items, set in smaller font so it’s not in the way).

  • Brett (October 19, 2009)

    Isn’t Facebook Connect a flavor of this? Instead of filling out the form just login through Facebook and your info comes along with it, in addition to the added functionality of cross posting to Facebook.
    Not sure if Im a true fan of FB Conect yet but I know its out there and its use is increasing.

  • Janko (October 19, 2009)

    Kyle: Good point, an email address at least would be nice in this example.

    Michael: if it is gravatar enabled, yes, it might help.

    Dmitry: Totally agree. There should be ways to automate repeating tasks such as commenting on blogs. Even when there is no login functionality.

    Brett: It is a similar concept but I intended to go beyond login functionality and that is to enable regular visitors some benefits without creating an account.

  • Abdu (October 19, 2009)

    Good idea but I wouldn’t use it in a form with just a few fields like a comment field.

    It SHOULD be used in wizard type of forms with someone enters some pages and decides to come back later.

  • Eric B. (October 20, 2009)

    You know what I don’t like about comment forms? Having to search through a huge list to find my country.

  • Marco (October 20, 2009)

    Very good thinking here Janko – it just looks much better to make the lay change depending on the user input. I don’t think it might be "dangerous" in some way, so I really think this could be implemented / used.

    Another way is by using jQuery – it would read the input fields and if there is a name, new DOM elements would be created and the fields would be hidden. This would be a pretty safe way.

    Keep up the great, innovative thinking :) .

  • Janko (October 21, 2009)

    Abdu: I wouldn’t limit the usage of this to a particular form type. It depends on the context and information needed.

    Eric B: You should be lucky, Canada is in the top of the list. Serbia is at the very bottom ;)

    Marco: Thanks! jQuery can do all the work here :)

  • Xaby Design (October 23, 2009)

    greetings from singapore!

    interesting perspective but what if the users are surfing your website from a shared terminal?

    maybe in the West, people surf the net from their home, but in some poor countries, many people go to internet cafes to surf the net.

    So i was wondering you had the assumption of 1 user per computer in your post here.

  • Andy Walpole (October 24, 2009)

    Hmm… not sure really. The trouble is that the easier you make it for users then the easier you make it for spammers too.

  • Josip (October 24, 2009)

    Great idea, thumbs up + why not test it here on the blog? That would be a perfect demo :)

    The idea itself is great, have some thoughts how to use this to encourage people to comment even more, will need to test it a bit though..

  • Janko (October 24, 2009)

    Xaby: That’s one of the cases where checkbox can help. It would be interesting to see habits of people that surf only from public computers, though.

    Andy: There’s no safe way to protect from spam. If you moderate comments this shouldn’t be a biggie.

    Josip: I am thinking to add this here, but I will first do some tests :)

  • Website laten maken (October 30, 2009)

    I don’t only hate it to fill them in, I also hate it to build them!!

    But I really like it your form always remembers my name :-)

  • William Hickocks (October 30, 2009)

    Remembering data on web forms is something really handy when it comes not only to comment blog, but in many other cases. But there are also programs that could fill those forms for You. As far as I know none of them is free, but with time I guess that this will improve. And such freeware will appear. I hope that soon this problem will be available to solve for anyone interested.

  • Janko (November 2, 2009)

    Website laten maken: webforms can be real pain sometimes :)