I. Stigmergy: This is a model from the insect world that is increasingly being applied to human collaboration. Stigmergy is a method of communication in complex systems, where the individual parts of the system (agents) communicate with one another indirectly, by modifying their local environment. The result is often a complex artifact, with emergent properties; that is, the artifact has properties that have "emerged" without being centrally planned, and yet have a system of organization. Examples in nature are ant and termite nests: ants and termites communicate by reacting to pheremone trails and build complex artifacts without having a central "architect." This model begs comparison with human collaborative efforts, such as Wikipedia.
A. Motivation: What motivates agents to modify their local environment? The work done by one individual must provide a stimulus for another individual to add to it. Insects have their motivation "cooked in" to them by their genes. What about humans?
1. One theory is that humans are motivated to contribute by competition. Possibilities include competition for social status, as posited by Eric S. Raymond, who talks about open-source hackers motivated by a "gift culture."
a. Some could argue that humans have competition "cooked in" to their genes as well, which is why stigmergy can be so effective.
II. Why this is important: This theory can be a guide to help those who want to build collaborative networks. Many collaborative projects (like wikis) fail to take off.
A. This theory of "collaboration via self-interest" is contrary to some beliefs that cooperation requires altruistic motives. There is a paradox here; selfish behavior results in collaborative products.
A. Analysis of successful and unsuccessful projects- I could look at different collaborative projects and compare the stimuli for contribution with the outcomes.