Stigmergic Collaboration

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= 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.


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



"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, 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."


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)