During my time at Chain Reaction (now known as Chain Reaction Ecommerce, Inc.), I created conceptual design for several new major system components.   One of those elements is the CRE Loaded Forms and Survey System (FSS).  Now present in the 6.3 and 6.4 cart releases,  FSS suffers from a few serious defects in usability.

The most egregious problem is a lack of documentation.   This is complicated by an absence of  data checking and feedback features and sub-optimal work flow setup in what is, admittedly, a pretty immature product.   Still, there is a good deal of potential in this underwhelming initial deployment, if you know where to look.

Lets start with a quick overview of the system as seen from the Admin tool.  Within the new top level “Forms and Survey” menu, there are 4 options.  Those options are Form Builder, Post Manager, Configuration and Backup.  The configuration and backup functionality are fairly self explanatory.  The form builder is used to build forms and the post manager is used to view post results for various forms.  There are a few gotchas in there, chiefly due to the extension of the terminology to include the term “surveys”, but we’ll ignore those for now.

The form builder looks somewhat like a standard osCommerce like  category / object management page.  On the first page you see various Forms and Survey “Folders”.   Unlike other folder or category structures in the cart, this system does not support any descriptive text or meta tags.   Which makes providing any compelling reason for a visitor to navigate further rather difficult at best without using either the Content Director System , RCI object insertions or direct edits of the content template for the forms system.  Fortunately (if you can call it that), CDS is included on all distributions which include the Forms and Survey System.

Another oddity you will notice right away is that one mandatory folder already exists.  This is entitled the “System Folder” and it holds two subfolders which equate to specific cart locations – Account and Order.  Forms added here will appear during the Account Creation and Checkout (or Order Creation) processes and are of a special type – the “Survey”.  It seems that the difference between a “form” and a “survey” is that survey “questions” are rendered within an existing form, while forms are complete forms with their own set of form tags under at least some circumstances.  You can see this by viewing the create_account.php page which shows the inputs associated with the account survey.   The FSS inputs appear in the “Options” section after all others have been rendered but before the password input fields- as part of the “create_account” form, as you can see in a source view.  Its a rather clumsy addition as is, but does offer some additional capabilities without too much silliness visible to the customer.  The order form however, is not so nice.

Forms can also be seen using the fss_forms_detail.php page.   The order form url can be formed by adding “fss_forms_detail.php?fPath=1&forms_id=2″ after your B2B installation URL.    You’ll see two form inputs – test file upload and Please rate your experience.  Obviously, you won’t want each customer to be offered a chance to load up your storage with miscellaneous files in most cases.  So, be sure to turn this input off by toggling the status icon in the admin.  (FSS -> Forms Builder -> System Folder -> Order -> “test file upload” is the path to the control).

My next post on this will go into more detail about how to use the Forms Builder, and what capabilities are offered by the configuration values.  But, before we get into those, it would be helpful to get into the details of what HTML forms are and how they work.  Here are a few helpful resources:

HTML 4.01 Foms standards

HTML  5 Forms Standards

HTML Form Tutorial at w3Schools.com

An older, but more detailed tutorial at htmlgoodies.com

Based on these, and other resources, I’ll outline how to use FSS to build a complete form…

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