The Golden Rule for content guidelines and user policies: “Keep it simple.”

The best rules are easy to follow: The Ten Commandments, the 5-second rule, look both ways, etc.

When rules are easily understood, people more or less fall in line, even if regulations are illogical. (I know someone who’s trying to buy unpasteurized milk, and you’d think he was asking for help building a still. Yet, everyone seems to know a guy.)

Here are two great examples of guidelines that work; I’ve spent time in these environments and have studied the behavior there closely. First, the House Rules from Milk & Honey, a bar on the Lower East Side:

  1. No name-dropping, no star fucking.
  2. No hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behaviour.
  3. No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting.
  4. Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided.
  5. Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.
  6. Do not linger outside the front door.
  7. Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home. You are responsible for the behaviour of your guests.
  8. Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.

Due largely to the House Rules and a bartender staff that trained at Hogwarts, this is one of the best places to drink in the world. I’ve seen Gentlemen asked to leave for violating rules #2 and #5. Because it’s one of the world’s best bars, other patrons see the consequences and pay close heed, enjoying a relaxed time because everyone knows how they’re supposed to behave.

The second example is from the San Francisco Municipal Railway, a system I know quite well:
If your guidelines are more verbose than this, they're too wordy. Rewrite them.

Some years ago, I was riding a crowded bus during rush hour when a nogoodnik pulled out a Sharpie and started expressing himself freely on a window.

“Stop that. Stop that right now.”

Several of us turned to see an elderly fellow sitting directly behind young Banksy. He was at least 70, and he would brook no bullshit.

“What’d you say, old man?” There were spectators, so the young man puffed himself up a bit.

“You heard me. I pay for this bus, we all do. And I don’t want you marking it up!” He jabbed a finger at a decal near the door listing the criminal penalties for graffiti.

Youngblood held his stare for a few beats, then capped the pen and stashed it behind his ear. He got off at the next stop.

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