Saturday, February 14, 2015

HTML-based documents are compact and readable, and allow for a flexible, responsive design

Some have asked why Yozons Open eSignForms doesn't work with uploaded documents like those of most every other competing web-based contracting system.  These people point out that they already have legacy systems that produce PDFs or Word documents and they'd like to drive those through a modern workflow, often mostly for electronic signatures.

Of course, there is a need for such a requirement, and it's pretty common for those who work with older applications created before e-signatures grew in popularity.  Previously, those PDF documents were printed for a wet signature.  Yozons believes that this sort of capability is already well provided by competitors, almost all of which take the approach of accepting PDF, Word or other types of files. Yozons' original Signed & Secured allows for signing of any type of file since 2001, but this approach was deprecated by Yozons in favor of HTML documents starting back in 2004, which eventually lead to the eSignForms in 2005 predecessor to Open eSignForms in 2011.

Open eSignForms is designed to use HTML-based documents.  Sure, with Open eSignForms you can attach PDFs and other types of files with ease, and you can even export signed HTML documents in PDF format to produce legal copies (the legal original remains the digitally signed HTML version), but we don't allow them become the primary document to be filled out and signed.  There is an image overlay scheme that provides something similar for filling out an inflexible document that must maintain its exact layout, but this has all of the same limitations of using uploaded PDFs.

A big benefit of HTML documents over PDFs and Word is that they are typically much smaller in size.  If you do only a few contracts, size may not matter, but if you do hundreds or thousands per day, size matters, and this gets more important if you need to store those documents for many years or decades.  Long term viability of a document format is important for e-signatures, and anybody who has done word processing for a long time can point out how older file formats are no longer useful because of software version changes.  HTML has always been supported by many different browsers, so no one vendor controls HTML to produce vendor lock-in.

PDFs do have advantages, of course, such as being able to create a document that will render and print just as it was laid out, including working with fonts that the reader may not have available. But font availability is changing with the web open font format (WOFF) that allows fonts to be downloaded from the Internet even if the user's browser doesn't support that font directly.  We won't mention the ongoing and myriad security issues related to Adobe Reader and the need to have that troublesome plugin updated regularly to avoid putting your computer at risk.

PDF and Word files require special software to view them in any meaningful way.  If you open either in a text editor, it's pretty hard to read the content or make any sense of it.  However, with HTML, a document is still pretty readable.  The contractual terms can be seen even if no web browser were available, but of course web browsers are not only available, they are appearing in more and more places.

With HTML, Open eSignForms is able to do things that fixed documents in PDF or Word format simply cannot match.  With HTML, whole sections of a document can be replaced at run-time based on which party is working the document, or based on data values, etc.  You just can't make a PDF document hide a paragraph or swap out some language based on data in a transaction.  And of course a PDF cannot natively support data entry over the web.

HTML also supports form input natively, so using HTML documents to allow for data entry is built-in and understood by all Internet users.

Also, as the mobile web has most recently demonstrated, the Internet will continue to change over time and gain more powers that are available via HTML.  The mobile web has introduced the concept of responsive design so that a page renders well on a small phone screen as well as on a large monitor.  HTML is suited for all of these ever-changing needs.

HTML is a very good format for documents.  It is standardized internationally, can be read even without special software (at least when it's HTML and not a Web 2.0 document where most of the rendering is done via Javascript and thus is no longer readable without a browser, making them suffer some of the same issues that PDF and Word documents already have), is compact, and supports screens of all sizes without the need for any special plug-ins.

Lastly, those with disabilities can have HTML documents read to them or shown in braille, etc. HTML is the new international, interoperable document format, whereas PDF and Word are old, proprietary formats that continue to morph as they try to remain relevant for those who are locked in and cannot yet migrate to the HTML standard.

1 comment:

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