christian crumlishCargo cults. Cowpaths. The Ex-Boyfried Bug. Often the best writing about social media (or business practices in general) centers around good, solid writing. And that’s what Christian Crumlish is up to in his forthcoming book Designing Social Interfaces, with co-author Erin Malone.

Crumlish’s recent article, The Information Architecture of Social Experience Design: Five Principles, Five Anti-Patterns and 96 Patterns (in Three Buckets), published by the American Society for Information Science and Technology, is a small masterpiece of clear-headed, common-sense, well-communicated dos and don’ts for social media rendered in clever and memorable metaphors.

Crumlish, curator of the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library and author of The Power of Many, says together with Malone he’s investigating 96 social media patterns, 56 principles and practices, and five major don’ts.

Five of the principles, he writes, cut across the entire social media experience:

    •    Pave the Cowpaths
    •    Talk Like a Person
    •    Play Well with Others
    •    Learn from Games
    •    Respect the Ethical Dimension

“Pave the Cowpaths means, essentially, look where the paths are already being formed by behavior and then formalize them, rather than creating some idealized path structure that ignores history and tradition, human nature, geometry and ergonomics, and common sense. Sometimes this principle is applied on campuses – and sometimes a rear-guard ‘keep off the grass’ action is fought instead to no avail.”

Crumlish is equally sensible with his list of don’ts, or “anti-patterns,” which include:

    •    Cargo Cult
    •    Don’t Break Email
    •    The Password Anti-Pattern
    •    Ex-Boyfriend Bug
    •    Potemkin Village

“Briefly, the Cargo Cult means imitating superficial features of successful websites and applications without really understanding what makes them work.”

The above are only exerpts – the entire essay is well worth a read, and whets one’s appetite for the forthcoming book. In the meantime, those passionate about designing social media interfaces are invited to explore the book’s wiki.