Less is more.

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.

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2 Responses to Less is more.

  1. shaidorsai says:

    Yes but…
    it may work well for static content, and presumably user satisfaction depends upon what your users want to do with the content.

    Surely, as we move in to the world of perpetual beta we have to be comfortable with some things being a bit untidy?

    I used to use pfe for my websites – even though it was last updated in 1999, then I started using nvu.

    You’ve talked before about how what is good for one site isn’t for another [cf. Google – few links; Amazon – bucket loads].

    A strict CMS may well produce a wonderful web experience for those that read it; but does that map to a paradigm shift where your audience are all producers and consumers – with their roles overlapping?

    Paradigm shift? I knew that course on “the nature of scientific discovery” in 1978 would come in useful… I think that’s the first time I’ve used the phrase in 30 years…

  2. sandyblair says:

    Hmm, I’m not sure the concept of static content is useful anymore.

    At the meeting I was at with Richard we came to the conclusion that all content is collaborative, but what we call static is often collaborative off line.

    There is no reason that collaborative content can’t be published in a CMS. For many types of collaboration CMS is the best model for publishing, you can still add crowd source features, a comments thread for instance.

    What I was getting at above wasn’t about wikis v CMS though, but more that the interface can help the production (or the collaboration) and that the one size fits all free textarea usually found in wikis isn’t always optimum. There’s no reason that a wiki input / editing interface can’t encourage best practice, my point is that they don’t, which is why there is such a tidy-up activity behind wikipedia.

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