Online forms

PDF Filler helps make online forms interactive

In an effort to improve how citizens interact with the government, Project MyGov, part of the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program, released a new tool that lets users fill out and submit PDF forms online.

Citizens are often required to fill out PDF forms when submitting information for the government, because a PDF file format ensures the integrity of the document. A PDF also preserves the format of the original, paper form. However, filling out and managing PDFs can be tiresome for both citizens and government employees.

PDF Filler is an open-source tool for Web developers available on github.  It works with unencrypted PDFs that have pre-defined entry fields as well as scanned PDF forms. PDF Filler, which gives developers a standardized interface, also automatically creates the markup necessary to embed an HTML form into an existing webpage.

On sites that use PDF Filler, citizens will be able to fill out forms on the website rather than downloading the document, completing it offline, then mailing or faxing it in. Third-party developers will be able to build applications on top of the form, such as a tool that fills in name and address fields across multiple documents without having to rekey the information for every document. 

Besides improving user experience, online forms will expand PDF accessibility to multiple platforms and devices as well as to visually impaired users.

There are advantages to government agencies and IT staff as well. An electronically submitted form means agencies don’t have to manage mailed-in hard copies, reducing paper-based and duplicative processes.

Project MyGov envisions PDF Filler as a stepping stone to other types of online information collection tools.

“The goal here is to encourage the use of Web-based forms to aid agencies in eventually transitioning to an entirely electronic process. Put another way, once you have a Web-based form submitting information to a service, it's a lot easier to then shift to submitting that information directly to an agency database or some sort of a public submission system,” said Ben Balter, a member of Project MyGov.

Project MyGov is a partnership between government and academia, non-profits and the public sector. Developers can request an invite to join MyGov beta to test the technology. Project MyGov also welcomes alternative name suggestions for PDF Filler.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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