This post was originally published by the Ektron Community Blogs here.
As any of my developer brethren will tell you, I’m a big proponent of Ektron’s Smart Forms. In our world, they’re a great way to structure content, to make dictionary objects for storing things like settings, and to store more data in a defined way than is natively available in the Ektron Workarea. I like to call them a database inside the database.
But this is geared more towards marketers and decision-makers, those that use what we developers do. So you might not be familiar with what a Smart Form is or why it’s a good idea to use it. Hopefully after this, you’ll not only understand it, but if your application isn’t making use of the concept, you’ll convince your development team to look into it.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
As I noted, Smart Forms are a great way to structure content. Take the standard Ektron content item, for example. When you create a new piece of content, you’ve got the title, a teaser/summary, and a text body to work with. In that text body, you can put anything you like, styled however you like. I’m sure at first you’re thinking this is a good thing…but what happens when you have ten, twenty, or a hundred people who all have that same idea? Then factor in that your website has standard styles for headings, text, bullet lists, etc. – every little formatting decision you put in there could violate those standards, and someone will make you go back over and over to fix it. Sure, using the editor you could actually apply styles that are defined by your designers and implemented by your developers, but trust me, we like to use names that make technical sense and maybe not “human sense” – do you want to be asking every time you see a style called “colRtH2” as to what that is and if you should use it?
Enter the Smart Form.
Instead of that big empty text body, you’ll instead get a nice input form to work with, kind of like you’re on a website signing up for something. You’ll find fields that will be clearly labeled with what content should go there, or an image or file selector, or even a date picker or link selector. The nice thing is that a well-developed Smart Form can also have a full set of instructions built in, so you know just what is expected and what limitations there might be on your content (for example, an image should be only 200x200 maximum or it’ll be auto-cropped).
Once you fill out that information, everything will drop into place on the appropriate page of your site, all styled up without your having to worry about it. If that “colRtH2” style should be applied with Comic Sans and a bright pink color, it’s all taken care of (and then scold your designer!). It takes a lot of the guesswork out.
Even better, your content can be reused throughout the site in a variety of ways. Let’s say you filled out a Smart Form for a news article. You’ll have the article page, of course. But then you’ll have some summary list of news articles. You may have a sidebar component that lists the story of the day or most popular article. You might even have a homepage that can be reconfigured based on the importance of news articles. By using Smart Forms, it doesn’t matter where the content is used or how, because it’ll look right in all locations, and you won’t have people asking why there’s an oddball look to something in one location because of some random formatting you did.
Don’t worry, even Smart Forms have a freeform textual element, where you can still do all the styling you want. But expect that to be used for the body of an article, which will likely only be displayed in one place. All the reusable components will still be well formatted.
Making Search Better
The final advantage to Smart Forms in this world is search. Not only will the Ektron search engine crawl your title, but it can also crawl each individual field in your Smart Form. This allows for tighter targeting of content, both from a broad perspective as well as by creating facets to let end users further narrow their results. If you work with your developers in the page design process, you can even find some of your fields becoming behind-the-scenes metadata to make your content stand out more to Google or Bing.
If you search for “Ektron Smart Forms” you’ll find a lot of developer talk around them. Hopefully you see why now. We use them because it not only makes our world easier, but it can make yours easier, too.