A downloadable PDF on a website is usually suspicious. If that document contains lines and boxes for handwritten entry, I consider it evidence of cluelessness.
Long before the web took off, we created standardized forms and duplicated them through traditional printing, mimeograph, photocopy or other methods. When computers became powerful enough to support rudimentary desktop publishing, the form became a file that you could print and distribute by hand.
You could even send the form around by email, although there was no guarantee the recipient would have the software to complete the form electronically and return it to you over the Internet.
But about fifteen years ago, that all started to change. The web emerged as a two-way medium. Not only could you browse web pages, but you could enter data into web forms. Anybody who has ever completed a Google search, keyed in a credit card number, or checked the status of package online has used a a web form. Web forms are ubiquitous.
So today, when over two thirds of all people are online and virtually all Americans use the Internet daily, it’s shocking that people still create PDF or Word document forms that they expect you to download, print out, and scan or mail in. How could individuals possibly advocate this level of inefficiency?
There are only two answers. The first is that we have become so accustomed to poor systems that we neglect to include the apology. We should be saying “Our legal department has not yet approved online signatures, so we need a scanned copy.” Or, “Our IT team is backed up and has not yet made a webform for this, so just write your responses in an email or modify the Word doc and send it back to me.”
The second possible answer, however, is far more profound. I believe that millions of Internet users have not yet made the paradigm shift to understand the capacity of the web. They still see the Internet as a form of somewhat interactive television, where there are more channels and more controls. They don’t yet realize that everyone controls the productivity of the web.
I find this to be the case when people ask questions they could easily answer via Google, or stumble over logistical problems that are instantly resolved by making some information available on the web. I meet business owners that dismiss the need to be listed with online mapping services, but actually use these mapping services as their personal, portable atlas.
If you’re part of the first group that knows you should be using online forms, don’t forget the apology. Or head over to a company that provides an online form builder and solve the problem yourself.
But if you’re part of the second group, it’s time to admit that you’re clueless. Open your mind to the possibilities of technology. These tools make business faster, relationships more sustainable and have the power to simplify communication.
Only, however, if we change our perspective.