Word of the day: Stigmergy

September 1, 2009

I’m on vacation in Wisconsin, with a little time to catch up on reading and blogging at the local Internet cafe. One set of readings I’m carrying are some good works on collective intelligence. One, a Cutter Consortium Executive Report ($$$) by Paola Di Maio, includes an intriguing description of stigmergy.

Derived from the Greek words ‘stigma’ and ‘ergos’ (work), stigmergy means ‘work following the marks of work,” as first observed by French entomologist Pierre-Paul Grasse…

The entomologist had noticed that termites concentrated their building efforts on the biggest existing mounds, “where the action obviously is.” In the context of our currently enhanced capabilities for nondirected communication (i.e. Twitter and Facebook), stigmergy provides perspective on how we are currently and quite unconsciously building collective intelligence through our daily foraging for knowledge, posting musings, and making decisions about where to place our marks.

Speaking of Wisconsin (“America’s dairyland), my first home, I always arrive here as if in a foreign country. Passing those first sets of fields, shining silos, 360 degree skies, and (increasingly) windmills, I think “what a pretty place” and feel lucky to have been born and still have family here. Farm roots being what they are, and my current profession being what it is, I found it interesting that it was my niece yesterday who pointed out to me that most of her friends who do use Facebook are now leaving their marks in Farm Town.

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