A Practical Technique for Using the World Wide Web to Generate and Codify Data

Article excerpt

The increasing popularity of the World Wide Web has expanded the opportunities for gathering information through this medium. One example is form surveys, used for collecting data for analytical purposes, such as research, database generation, or conference registration. For quite some time it has been possible to use the web to send form queries, but it was necessary to manually extract the data from the returned forms and place it into either a database or a statistical analysis program in order to codify the information received. A newly developed shareware Macintosh program, now available, makes capturing data from a web survey automatic and easy. eScan (1997) by Tim Barlow is a Macintosh utility that recognizes, extracts, and processes electronic form data embedded in e-mail messages. This is achieved by the provision of a software interface between the data-base product Filemaker Pro (1997) and Eudora (1997).The package has been especially oriented for use with web forms.

eScan will either scan messages on command or when informed of the arrival of new mail by Eudora. Users can specify any Eudora mailbox and choose whether to scan read or unread mail. For each e-mail message that eScan reads, it determines whether it contains embedded form data. If it does, then information about the message is extracted, either from the body of the e-mail message or from an attached document, and a list of "found" messages is constructed. These messages may then be displayed, printed, transferred, or processed.

The processing of a form first requires the extraction of the data it contains. If a FileMaker Pro database has been specified for the form, then the extracted data may be written to that file or used to extract data from an existing database record. If a template e-mail reply has been defined, then the template is merged with aspects of the extracted data to generate a customized reply. Reply messages may also contain outgoing attachments.

eScan requires Macintosh System 7.5 or later and uses Eudora Light, version 1.51 onwards, Eudora Pro, all versions, and FileMaker Pro, version 2.1 onwards.

The following steps show how to apply eScan:

1. Create a Web Form. Create a web form from scratch by using an HTML editor or a web browser, or locate an existing web form that can be used as a starting point, then save it and modify it using an HTML editor. Regardless of the technique used, ensure that each form element (whether a text field, radio button, etc.) contains a unique name attribute and appropriate caption. You must also define how the form will be processed once the form's "Submit" button is pressed; this is specified by the HTML "ACTION" tag. The two main options are to use a server-based CGI (common gateway interface) application or a "mailto" directive. Here's a tip: If you are developing a database containing names and/or e-mail addresses, it is best to use the mailto directive, because name and e-mail address are hidden fields in most CGIs and will not be extracted by FileMaker Pro. …