Difference between revisions of "Stigmergic Collaboration"

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'''= a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment'''
 
'''= a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment'''
  
 +
See [[Stigmergy]] for a full treatment of the topic.
  
=Description=
 
  
From Mark Elliot at http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php
 
  
Source: Elliott, Mark. "Stigmergic Collaboration: The Evolution of Group Work." M/C Journal 9.2 (2006). 03 Aug. 2007 .
+
=Thesis=
  
 +
* Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration. Mark Elliot.
  
 +
URL = http://mark-elliott.net/blog/?page_id=24
  
"Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part. A highly complex nest simply self-organises due to the collective input of large numbers of individual termites performing extraordinarily simple actions in response to their local environment. Since Grasse’s research, stigmergy has been applied to the self-organisation of ants, artificial life, swarm intelligence and more recently, the Internet itself.
 
  
As stigmergy is a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment, it is a logical extension to apply the term to many types (if not all) of Web-based communication, especially media such as the wiki. The concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen. However, is it correct to call these enterprises “collaboration”?"
+
==Abstract==
(http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
 
  
 +
"This thesis presents an application-oriented theoretical framework for generalised and specific collaborative contexts with a special focus on Internet-based mass collaboration. The proposed framework is informed by the author’s many years of collaborative arts practice and the design, building and moderation of a number of online collaborative environments across a wide range of contexts and applications. The thesis provides transdisciplinary architecture for describing the underlying mechanisms that have enabled the emergence of mass collaboration and other activities associated with ‘Web 2.0′ by incorporating a collaboratively developed definition and general framework for collaboration and collective activity, as well as theories of swarm intelligence, stigmergy, and distributed cognition.
  
=Characteristics=
 
  
Mark Elliot at http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php:
+
Accompanying this creative arts thesis is a DVD-Rom which includes offline versions of the three Internet based collaborative environments designed, built and implemented in accordance with the frameworks for digital stigmergy and mass collaboration developed in the written work. The creative works in conjunction with the written thesis help to explore and more rigorously define the collaborative process in general, while testing the theory that stigmergy is an inherent component of collaborative processes which incorporate collective material production.
  
"The following represents some of the current findings of the author’s PhD research on and around collaboration and stigmergic collaboration, and comprises the core components of the theoretical framework guiding this article:
 
  
 
+
Supported by a range of contemporary examples of Internet activity, including the accompanying creative works, it is found that stigmergy is a deeply rooted mechanism inherent in not only traditional material collaborative processes, but a range of emerging online practices which may be broadly categorised as digital stigmergic cooperation and collaboration. This latter class enables the extreme scaling seen in mass collaborative projects such as Wikipedia.org, open source software projects and the massive, multiplayer environment, Second Life. This scaling is achieved through a range of attributes which are examined, such as the provision of a localised site of individualistic engagement which reduces demands placed upon participants by the social negotiation of contributions while increasing capacity for direct and immediate creative participation via digital workspaces. Also examined are a range of cultural, economic and sociopolitical impacts which emerge as a direct result of mass collaboration’s highly distributed, non-market based, peer-production processes, all of which are shown to have important implications for the further transformation of our contemporary information and media landscape."
'''1. Collaboration is dependent upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.'''
 
  
Collaboration being dependent upon communication (in some form or another) is self-evident and requires no explanation (collaboration cannot be a solo venture), and the notion that communication is a network phenomenon is also reasonably intuitive. However it should be stressed that communication not only makes use of networks as channels, but also generates networks through its very being—entities communicating using any medium become connected nodes. Both these factors—collaboration requiring communication, and communication being a network phenomenon—make collaboration especially well suited to the Internet’s hyperlinked network structure.
 
  
 +
=Discussion=
  
'''2. Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.'''
+
==Kevin Carson:==
  
That collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components—social negotiation and creative output—is not to say that there aren’t other important components, but rather that these two are fundamental to the process as it is generally regarded. In formulating a theory of stigmergic collaboration, it is important to note that the social negotiation that takes place during collaboration may be implicit and unknown to the participants. As collaboration is a fundamental biological behaviour which takes place anywhere humans work together, it is not necessary to ‘know’ that one must negotiate one’s identity, values and ideas prior to and during collaboration. By simply being in the presence of other humans one can collaborate without having any regard for or knowledge of the process’s existence. However, even if it is unconscious, social negotiation (the delineation and identification of personal boundaries, interests, stakes, objectives, etc.) must take place as the result of the communication required by collaboration.
+
"It seems to me that a lot of the juxtapositions of "individual
 +
authorial voice" and the "collective," in critiques of "Digital
 +
communism/Maoism" like those of Lanier, Helprin, etc., miss the point.
  
Another caveat to the second primary component, creative output, is that the output may take the form of an ongoing process instead of a final conclusion. An example would be an intimate relationship—the parties involved may collaborate very closely towards the successful continuance of the collaborative process.
+
The Web is not "collective" in the traditional sense of the
 +
term--i.e., as it was understood in the days before networked
 +
organization, when "collective" action could be taken only through
 +
large institutions representing some collective of human beings and
 +
coordinated by a hierarchy, in which each individual's freedom of
 +
initiative was limited by the coordination of a central authority.
  
 +
It is stigmergic, which synthesizes the highest development of  both
 +
the collective and individualism.  It maximizes the efficiency of
 +
collective action by removing the transaction costs of voluntary
 +
cooperation.  But at the same time, it is entirely a sum total of free
 +
individual actions, taken by individuals on their own initiative and
 +
without anyone else's permission.  The sum total effect is created by
 +
individuals coordinating their own unconstrained actions with the
 +
common goal as they understand it.
  
'''3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.'''
+
Under stigmergic organization, any individual can formulate any
 +
individual innovation he sees fit, and make it universally available,
 +
and any other individual or group of individuals can adopt it as they
 +
see fit. If there is disagreement within a group as to whether or not
 +
to adopt it, they can fork and replicate two different versions of the
 +
same project.  Every single "collective" is the product of the
 +
unanimous agreement of the individuals making it up.  And every single
 +
contribution is modular, to be adopted or not adopted by unanimous
 +
consent in every discrete grouping out there.
  
Research has shown that the ideal size for collaborating groups (where technology is not being used in any way) is 2-8, with an upper limit of around 25 (Lipnack & Stamps 180-1). In these smaller groups, successful collaboration is generally reliant upon social negotiation to evolve and guide the development of the group’s creative output. In such scenarios, discussion plays a key role in the negotiation of emergent, shared understandings—this is, perhaps, the essence of face-to-face collaboration. Discussion acts as a point of mediation between the individual collaborators and the creative outcome which may or may not eventuate. It is in this shared space, the space ‘between’ the participants, where the traditional collaborative process develops its third member—that is, the member who is the sum of the whole and who seems to guide the process while developing ideas that are beyond the individual contributors’ capacities.
+
So stigmergy is the highest realization of both individualism and
 +
collectivism, without either diminishing or qualifying the other in
 +
any way."
 +
(email, April 2010)
  
  
'''4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is dependent upon stigmergy.'''
+
==Nathaniel Tkacz:==
  
Although social mediation is an inherent part of collaboration, when applied in traditional face-to-face collaboration social mediation can provide a barrier to the rapid and seamless integration of contributions that characterises projects such as Wikipedia.org and the Open Source software movement. It may be that there is simply so much complex information to be negotiated when people communicate directly that the negotiations of the many collapse under their own weight without the mediation of an administrative/stigmergic system.
+
"Elliott is not a critical thinker in the Frankfurt School sense and in many ways his works aligns perfectly with Bruns, Benkler and so on.[10] However, Elliott’s work is distinguished by the way it attempts to think the how of mass collaboration, its structural elements, rather than merely wondering at its existence. Elliott notes how collaborations have traditionally been thought to implode at around 25 members. This number was thought to be the upper limit of meaningful communication between participants for which goals, rules, roles and so on can reasonably be negotiated. With mass collaboration, negotiation falls by the wayside and instead becomes “stigmergic” in nature.
  
This is not to say that social negotiation does not take place in stigmergic collaborative contexts—it may even be essential to developing the collaborative community—but rather that negotiation takes a back seat in terms of the creative drafting process. Most (if not all) stigmergic wiki collaborations have discussions associated with the content being developed, but it is possible to contribute (to Wikipedia.org, for instance) without discussing what you are contributing to or creating. Conversely, it is also possible to take part in discussion without editing an article. Although such discussions are most certainly an important and perhaps crucial form of contribution, they are typically secondary to the objectives of the overall project. For an example of a discussion accompanying mass collaboration, see the Israel talk page at Wikipedia.org. In addition to such points of discussion, bulletin boards, IRC (chat) and e-mail lists often support and augment the negotiation."
+
Elliott borrows the term stigmergy from myrmecology (the study of ants), which refers to how termites are able to build complex nests and mounds without any overarching blueprint or master engineer, or even without any individual ant able to conceive of the whole (2006). In its anthropomorphic manifestation, stigmergy describes a process whereby environmental conditions (such as poorly written Wikipedia articles) trigger a response in individuals to modify such conditions. This in turn triggers responses in other individuals, and a continuous process of modification and project development is set in motion. Central to stigmergy, and echoing thought on complexity in general, is that complex modes of organisation emerge from (in this case thousands of) individual members simply modifying their immediate environment. Whatever “whole” emerges is not conceived by any individual member.
(http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
 
  
 +
Elliott’s thoughts go some way in describing the structural conditions of mass collaboration and although he remains highly enthusiastic and even utopian about such processes, perhaps unwittingly he also lays the ground for a politicised counter-reading of mass collaboration. Consider what we might call the dark side of stigmergy as a mode of organising production: participants have little control over the structures that surround them; their action is reduced to simple responses to environmental triggers of which they may have little understanding; and the negotiation considered so central to small, traditional collaborations is simply swept aside. Elliott writes:
  
 +
In freeing up energy that participants would otherwise use in negotiation, more is available for contribution to a workspace’s domain level creative objectives. This has the effect of exploiting the potential inherent in stigmergic systems for globally coordinating localised input, thereby providing the capacity for the integration of a great number of individualistic contributions into that of a collective whole (2007, p. 138).
  
=Examples=
+
There are two important aspects of Elliott’s ontology, the first of which relates to negotiation. If the true moment of the political is the decision of one over the other, the “freeing up of energy” used to negotiate can be reread as a technical handing-over of the political as there are almost no opportunities to contest decisions. The second aspect involves a rereading of the basic process of stigmergy in relation to the human condition. Ants cannot perceive a whole mound or nest. However, a minimal amount of information passes from ant to ant in order for one to recognise what the other is doing and respond to it. Everything that emerges is determined by this relational protocol. With Wikipedia it is also the case that no individual can see the whole project and imagine every article. However, the minimal information passed between contributors (through both technical and discursive mediation) contains a high level of information and includes ideas about what knowledge is; what it looks like; how it is organised; how it should be expressed and so on. These “knowledge triggers” are so powerful that they can give shape to a complex process of human stigmergy. And when stigmergic collaboration appears to be working harmoniously, it is not because the mechanisms of control are removed, but rather that they are working particularly well. As Basem3wad makes clear, however, such mechanisms do not necessarily determine every individual contribution. Elliott’s work makes it clear that the distribution of policies and protocols and the drastic reduction of negotiation are central to mass collaboration."
 +
(http://journals.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/platform/v2i2_tkacz.html)
 +
  
"An example for stigmergic collaboration that transcends and includes the textual medium is the IHMC CMapTools server network. CMapTools is essentially open source concept mapping software with the additional functionality of allowing for maps to be accessed via the Internet”. Once accessed (if permissions are granted by the map owner), additional collaborators can add/edit/delete the contents of a map or link to another map in a similar way that an editor might in a wiki collaboration, linking from page to page. The CMap software also allows for synchronous collaboration, functionality which goes beyond the current asynchronous editing of wikis, providing the participant with a more connected sense of their collaborator’s engagement. However, it might be that such connection may disrupt a sense of distance that enables a wiki editor to contribute with less self-consciousness about their work than they would have if they knew someone was watching their drafting process. The value of a real-time wiki has yet to be extensively evaluated, although the functionality is emerging. It might be that such features will change the dynamics of stigmergic collaboration, returning them to a more traditional collaborative process by stimulating direct social engagement between contributors, however it is equally if not more likely that the ability to edit synchronously while maintaining stigmergic mediation, will only produce more novel collaborative dynamics."
+
==Poor Richard:==
(http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
 
  
 +
I agree that "drastic reduction of negotiation [is] central to mass collaboration" (Tkacz). However, it bears repeating that "such mechanisms do not necessarily determine every individual contribution". In the case of Wikipedia it is clear to me that they do not. In addition, a non-stigmergic framework with greater negotiation overhead is provided for higher-order collaboration, conflict resolution, and exception-handling. The stigmergy process casts considerable light on the success of Wikipedia, but only describes the "bottom tier" or "outermost ring" of that system. There is much more to learn about Wikipedia and other examples of "mixed" or hybrid systems for mass collaboration by pragmatically applying "Ostrom’s Law: An arrangement that works in practice can work in theory." (Ostrom's law: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/property-rights-in-the-commons-the-ubiquity-of-mixed-systems/2011/03/18)
  
=More Information=
+
Another way of characterizing negotiation-free behavior, long known to children, office workers, and other subordinates: "I'd rather ask forgiveness than ask for permission." [[User:Poor Richard|Poor Richard]]
  
See our entries on [[Mass Collaboration]]
+
[[Category:Research]]
 
 
Mark Elliot's PhD: [[Mass Collaboration Dissertation]]
 
  
 
[[Category:Encyclopedia]]
 
[[Category:Encyclopedia]]
  
 
[[Category:Relational]]
 
[[Category:Relational]]
 +
 +
[[Category:Cooperation]]

Latest revision as of 04:11, 24 January 2013

= a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment

See Stigmergy for a full treatment of the topic.


Thesis

  • Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration. Mark Elliot.

URL = http://mark-elliott.net/blog/?page_id=24


Abstract

"This thesis presents an application-oriented theoretical framework for generalised and specific collaborative contexts with a special focus on Internet-based mass collaboration. The proposed framework is informed by the author’s many years of collaborative arts practice and the design, building and moderation of a number of online collaborative environments across a wide range of contexts and applications. The thesis provides transdisciplinary architecture for describing the underlying mechanisms that have enabled the emergence of mass collaboration and other activities associated with ‘Web 2.0′ by incorporating a collaboratively developed definition and general framework for collaboration and collective activity, as well as theories of swarm intelligence, stigmergy, and distributed cognition.


Accompanying this creative arts thesis is a DVD-Rom which includes offline versions of the three Internet based collaborative environments designed, built and implemented in accordance with the frameworks for digital stigmergy and mass collaboration developed in the written work. The creative works in conjunction with the written thesis help to explore and more rigorously define the collaborative process in general, while testing the theory that stigmergy is an inherent component of collaborative processes which incorporate collective material production.


Supported by a range of contemporary examples of Internet activity, including the accompanying creative works, it is found that stigmergy is a deeply rooted mechanism inherent in not only traditional material collaborative processes, but a range of emerging online practices which may be broadly categorised as digital stigmergic cooperation and collaboration. This latter class enables the extreme scaling seen in mass collaborative projects such as Wikipedia.org, open source software projects and the massive, multiplayer environment, Second Life. This scaling is achieved through a range of attributes which are examined, such as the provision of a localised site of individualistic engagement which reduces demands placed upon participants by the social negotiation of contributions while increasing capacity for direct and immediate creative participation via digital workspaces. Also examined are a range of cultural, economic and sociopolitical impacts which emerge as a direct result of mass collaboration’s highly distributed, non-market based, peer-production processes, all of which are shown to have important implications for the further transformation of our contemporary information and media landscape."


Discussion

Kevin Carson:

"It seems to me that a lot of the juxtapositions of "individual authorial voice" and the "collective," in critiques of "Digital communism/Maoism" like those of Lanier, Helprin, etc., miss the point.

The Web is not "collective" in the traditional sense of the term--i.e., as it was understood in the days before networked organization, when "collective" action could be taken only through large institutions representing some collective of human beings and coordinated by a hierarchy, in which each individual's freedom of initiative was limited by the coordination of a central authority.

It is stigmergic, which synthesizes the highest development of both the collective and individualism. It maximizes the efficiency of collective action by removing the transaction costs of voluntary cooperation. But at the same time, it is entirely a sum total of free individual actions, taken by individuals on their own initiative and without anyone else's permission. The sum total effect is created by individuals coordinating their own unconstrained actions with the common goal as they understand it.

Under stigmergic organization, any individual can formulate any individual innovation he sees fit, and make it universally available, and any other individual or group of individuals can adopt it as they see fit. If there is disagreement within a group as to whether or not to adopt it, they can fork and replicate two different versions of the same project. Every single "collective" is the product of the unanimous agreement of the individuals making it up. And every single contribution is modular, to be adopted or not adopted by unanimous consent in every discrete grouping out there.

So stigmergy is the highest realization of both individualism and collectivism, without either diminishing or qualifying the other in any way." (email, April 2010)


Nathaniel Tkacz:

"Elliott is not a critical thinker in the Frankfurt School sense and in many ways his works aligns perfectly with Bruns, Benkler and so on.[10] However, Elliott’s work is distinguished by the way it attempts to think the how of mass collaboration, its structural elements, rather than merely wondering at its existence. Elliott notes how collaborations have traditionally been thought to implode at around 25 members. This number was thought to be the upper limit of meaningful communication between participants for which goals, rules, roles and so on can reasonably be negotiated. With mass collaboration, negotiation falls by the wayside and instead becomes “stigmergic” in nature.

Elliott borrows the term stigmergy from myrmecology (the study of ants), which refers to how termites are able to build complex nests and mounds without any overarching blueprint or master engineer, or even without any individual ant able to conceive of the whole (2006). In its anthropomorphic manifestation, stigmergy describes a process whereby environmental conditions (such as poorly written Wikipedia articles) trigger a response in individuals to modify such conditions. This in turn triggers responses in other individuals, and a continuous process of modification and project development is set in motion. Central to stigmergy, and echoing thought on complexity in general, is that complex modes of organisation emerge from (in this case thousands of) individual members simply modifying their immediate environment. Whatever “whole” emerges is not conceived by any individual member.

Elliott’s thoughts go some way in describing the structural conditions of mass collaboration and although he remains highly enthusiastic and even utopian about such processes, perhaps unwittingly he also lays the ground for a politicised counter-reading of mass collaboration. Consider what we might call the dark side of stigmergy as a mode of organising production: participants have little control over the structures that surround them; their action is reduced to simple responses to environmental triggers of which they may have little understanding; and the negotiation considered so central to small, traditional collaborations is simply swept aside. Elliott writes:

In freeing up energy that participants would otherwise use in negotiation, more is available for contribution to a workspace’s domain level creative objectives. This has the effect of exploiting the potential inherent in stigmergic systems for globally coordinating localised input, thereby providing the capacity for the integration of a great number of individualistic contributions into that of a collective whole (2007, p. 138).

There are two important aspects of Elliott’s ontology, the first of which relates to negotiation. If the true moment of the political is the decision of one over the other, the “freeing up of energy” used to negotiate can be reread as a technical handing-over of the political as there are almost no opportunities to contest decisions. The second aspect involves a rereading of the basic process of stigmergy in relation to the human condition. Ants cannot perceive a whole mound or nest. However, a minimal amount of information passes from ant to ant in order for one to recognise what the other is doing and respond to it. Everything that emerges is determined by this relational protocol. With Wikipedia it is also the case that no individual can see the whole project and imagine every article. However, the minimal information passed between contributors (through both technical and discursive mediation) contains a high level of information and includes ideas about what knowledge is; what it looks like; how it is organised; how it should be expressed and so on. These “knowledge triggers” are so powerful that they can give shape to a complex process of human stigmergy. And when stigmergic collaboration appears to be working harmoniously, it is not because the mechanisms of control are removed, but rather that they are working particularly well. As Basem3wad makes clear, however, such mechanisms do not necessarily determine every individual contribution. Elliott’s work makes it clear that the distribution of policies and protocols and the drastic reduction of negotiation are central to mass collaboration." (http://journals.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/platform/v2i2_tkacz.html)


Poor Richard:

I agree that "drastic reduction of negotiation [is] central to mass collaboration" (Tkacz). However, it bears repeating that "such mechanisms do not necessarily determine every individual contribution". In the case of Wikipedia it is clear to me that they do not. In addition, a non-stigmergic framework with greater negotiation overhead is provided for higher-order collaboration, conflict resolution, and exception-handling. The stigmergy process casts considerable light on the success of Wikipedia, but only describes the "bottom tier" or "outermost ring" of that system. There is much more to learn about Wikipedia and other examples of "mixed" or hybrid systems for mass collaboration by pragmatically applying "Ostrom’s Law: An arrangement that works in practice can work in theory." (Ostrom's law: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/property-rights-in-the-commons-the-ubiquity-of-mixed-systems/2011/03/18)

Another way of characterizing negotiation-free behavior, long known to children, office workers, and other subordinates: "I'd rather ask forgiveness than ask for permission." Poor Richard