Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

What about communication?

Posted in online collaborative spaces, self-organization by Bas Reus on July 6, 2009

This above question I asked myself after reading two very inspiring pieces of work. The first is the PhD. of Mark Elliott, ‘Stigmergic Collaboration. A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration’. The second is a paper from Paul B. Hartzog, ‘The Autocatalysis of Social Systems and the Emergence of Trust’.

Self OrganizationPaul argues that every act of communication is also an act of coordination. In order to communicate, both agents involved have to agree on the way communication works, which language is being used. But how do you agree without communication? Communication seems to be interrelated to coordination.

Mark argues that stigmergy is a form of self-organizing, without the need for any communication. This should resolve the coordination paradox. Because agents leave traces in the system, other agents can act on them. This indirect form of communication is not directly addressed to anyone, but the one that notices the trace can act upon it. But how does coordination work here?

The interesting part is that it seems there are some different approaches. Paul is talking about direct communication, while Mark talks about indirect communication. But coordination is always needed. And communication is always happening. Can stigmergy be the autocatalyst for communication? But how is communication being agreed upon? Please let me know your opinion.

Posted earlier on P2P Foundation.

2 Responses

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  1. […] explain one of the important themes of this quest. It is called stigmergy. In the previous post I already mentioned the term briefly. Stigmergy is derived from the Greek words stigma, which means a mark or sign, and […]

  2. John Tropea said, on January 31, 2012 at 04:27

    Hi Bas, you say “But how do you agree without communication? Communication seems to be interrelated to coordination.”

    I guess there’s a difference between “communication” and “attempting to communicate”, which if fails is better known as directed noise. If someone talks to you in a language you don’t understand, that’s I guess “attempted communication”…for it to be “communication” there needs to be coordination to form common knowledge

    But I know what you mean…as you are forming the common knowledge (doing the coordination part in order to communicate) isn’t this coordinating act done by communicating…as you say it does seem to be interrelated.

    Whether you’ve known someone for a short time or long time doesn’t matter…you could be explaining something new to your partner, something she knows nothing of…you first give them some establishing information so they are more equipped to understand what you are going to communicate (but as you say this coordination process involves communication itself)

    When we say “…do you know what I mean”, is often a sign that we have not coordinated a good enough common knowledge, and only attempted communication has taken place.

    Like you say stigmergy is indirect communication. Now do ants require coordinating a common knowledge..I don’t think so as they are rule-based…so I guess stigmergic communication doesn’t involve coordination..I’m just winging it here BTW

    Yet ants appear to highly coordinate, but I think this is because they follow simple rules…it doesn’t seem to be similar to the notion or to the calibre as humans coordinate

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocatalysis
    “A single chemical reaction is said to have undergone autocatalysis, or be autocatalytic, if the reaction product itself is the catalyst for that reaction.”

    I like this aligns with the question you pose “Can stigmergy be the autocatalyst for communication?”

    You say “but how is communication being agreed upon”

    It seems there’s no agreeing between multiple agents, as it’s up to the individual ant to make a decision based on the pheromone trace


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