= a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment
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 .
"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”?" (http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
Mark Elliot at http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php:
"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:
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.
2. Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.
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.
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.
3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
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.
4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is dependent upon stigmergy.
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.
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." (http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
"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." (http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0605/03-elliott.php)
See our entries on Mass Collaboration
Mark Elliot's PhD: Mass Collaboration Dissertation