‘Contact me’ forms

They sound lovely: people fill in a form on your site, press a button and you get it. You don’t need to publish your email address, and you can insist people fill out various bits of information before you’ll let them contact you.

But they are really not a good idea. What you end up having is a program as part of the website that takes what people have entered in the form and emails it to you. It’s much easier all round if they just email it to you themselves.

Why? Think about what happens when you get the emailed form. If you want to continue the conversation, you have to email them back. How do you know the email address they’ve given is right? You don’t – it could have an error in it or it could be someone else’s email address entered as a prank. Some programs try to test whether an email address is valid, but they often get it wrong. At one point, no-one with a ‘someone@somewhere.info’ email address could use a popular form program – it didn’t think any valid email address had more than three letters after the final dot.

The same things apply if you want their phone number – lots of mistakes / pranks / expecting only American style phone numbers.

Spambots also love them*, so you need to have some way of people proving they’re human** and that puts some humans off from trying. While obviously you’d like some people put off from contacting you (timewasters etc) they’re not necessarily the same people.

So while they’re obviously possible to do technically, we won’t do them. And we’re not sorry about that :)


* One of the first ‘form to email’ programs turned out to allow you to email anyone, given a little trickery, not just the address they were supposed to go to. Spammers loved that. If you’ve ever had spam that started with a line like ‘Form submitted’, that’s why.

** Typically the modern version of asking people to say ‘Shibboleth‘: a CAPTCHA – a task like recognising letters in a snowstorm, something humans find easy-ish to do and programs hard. They help cut down the spam, but what can happen is that the spammers pay people tiny amounts of money to do them. Or they have a porn site and get someone to solve your CAPTCHA before giving them access to the pictures of naked people. The people who used Shibboleth as a test killed people who pronounced it differently from them. CAPTCHAs can be very annoying, but at least they don’t do that.

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