This is counter intuitive but I think that the best way to ensure best practice is to limit choices, as long as the choice limiting is smart.
Microsoft Front Page was a program many people loved, it gave people with very limited technical skills the ability to create web sites. Unfortunately it often resulted in very bad websites.
This wasn’t Front Page’s fault, in the hands of a skilled user it could create great sites, but it was too easy to make bad sites. Flash is another good example of this, in the right hands Flash is terrific, fully accessible, maintainable and can produce compelling interfaces – its just that 99% of the examples of its use are in ropey animation gimmicks.
I set myself a challenge about this, I wanted to create a ‘coffee time quiz’ generator, similar to the types of quiz you see in the BBC new site. So I thought, what’s the optimum number of questions? Say 10, then OK, my generator will force the quiz to have 10 questions, how long should the question be? Make it 60 characters maximum, how many answers? Alway three.
So I built this (it was easy too, as I didn’t have to be flexible) and it was great at generating quizzes, took about 10 minutes, and the quizzes were fun to do. I got a few other folks to try to make up a quiz, and immediately they wanted more features, can I make five answers, can I say choose 2 from 4, can I have a much longer explanation text after the answer… however, when I said no, they had to rethink how they were trying to build their quiz, optimise it for a user experience and the quizes they produced were well liked.
Limiting the choice limits the scope, my quiz generator would be hopeless for a formal assessment test, but its a great coffee time quiz.
The blogging software I am using now, is a highly specialised, limited publishing system, its not got the power of Front Page, but the rigidity of the format means that people write better blogs. I’ve even seen a company that uses a very rigid CMS, which enforces best ‘write for the web’ practice. It has very high user satisfaction ratings too.
Placing the best practice enforcement inside the tool is always going to impinge on someones freedom (I like creating web sites in a text editor for instance!) but it works because it almost always improves the users experience.