Heidi Adkisson has written a fascinating article called “Examining the Role of De Facto Standards on the Web,” which covers some research she has done on the plusses and minuses of following standard web page conventions.
As she says, “Will the web become more standardized? What are the usability risks of not following a de facto standard on the web?”
She also has put together a companion web site that delves further into her research and will cover this topic on an ongoing basis. I’ve also felt this subject is one of the more important web design / usability topics and one well worth taking some time to try to understand. Cool stuff.