Novel Stigmergy Structures in the Internet
The Web is a vast collection of software
organisms. Novel stigmergy structures are growing in the
Internet and exerting their organizing power in new ways.
The vast messaging structure called the Internet harbors many
multicellular digital structures. More evolve every year. And
multitudes of "single cell" devices, PCs, laptops,
iPod/Pad/Phones, Android smart phones, and various sensor
and effector devices communicate with the many digital stigmergy
structures discussed below.
Linux source code, for example, is a relatively new kind of
structure that can be thought of as a software termite mound.
Linux's source code is organized by the “blessed” Concurrent
Versions System (CVS) repository that is under the control of the
Linux “inner circle” (Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, etc). Clearly,
the Linux CVS code tree is both built by, and helps to organize
the efforts of, the
worldwide community of Linux programmers. Classic stigmergy! The
Open-Source revolution that gave us Linux, Apache, MySQL,
and OpenOffice depends upon such open, distributed software
The Internet supports many other public stigmergy
structures that are collectively managed and used by humanity.
The entire Web is itself a distributed stigmergy structure
being modified and constantly influencing the organization of
the humans and computers
that use it. The Web as a whole is a living digital stigmergy
Examples of emergent digital stigmergy
structures in the Internet include:
- Google and other search sites -- consisting of
crawlers, databases and servers. These search sites create and
meta-level stigmergy structures (the crawler data) that adapt
to the changing content and cross linking structure of
the Web and page-rank algorithms that adapt to the way query
results are followed by users and manipulated content
creators. These constantly changing structures in turn affect
both the browsing and the remodeling of the Web.
The task of keeping up-to-date metadata is massive. Google
their metadata stigmergy structure(s) on upwards of two
stripped-down Linux servers organized in a multi-cellular
architecture. The distributed architecture includes apoptosis mechanisms
identifying and removing failed servers.
- Twitter -- a case of a self-organizing system built upon a
data and communication structure. It is an organization layer
initially, upon cell phone SMS text messages. Texting itself
proposed in 1985 over an already existing secondary low
between cell-phones and cell towers that had been used only to
to phones about reception strength and to supply them with
incoming calls. In 1985, the GSM telephony standards
committee, led by
Friedhelm Hillebrand, proposed
character text message protocols.
Twitter is now used over the Web on media other than just
texting. And a large searchable database of tweets has been
accumulating -- it is, in effect
the digital world's diary. It will be archived forever by the
Library of Congress.
On April 14, 2010, @librarycongress tweeted, “Library to
Twitter archives --
All public tweets, ever, since March 2006!” The archives are
processes more than 50 million tweets every day.
- MMORPGs -- Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games
World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Second Life, and
many others are based on servers that maintain "models" (in
Model-View-Controller sense) acting as the stigmergy
around which tens of thousands of online gamers organize their
The game model
is altered in real-time by the behavior of the players and the
player's behavior is altered by the constantly changing model.
at least 6.5 million users and claim that they have
supported over 250 thousand simultaneous users.
- Instant messaging communities (AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and others)
where the stigmergy structure is the “presence registry” that
who is online at any given moment. By the act of
logging-in to an Instant Messaging community, each user
information into the stigmergy structure: the IP address of
machine and perhaps other status information e.g.,
community of friends can know that they are now accessible.
use instant messaging recognize how their behavior is modified
aware in "real time" of their friend's and colleague's online
- Public databases. For example, most medical and
post-genomic bioinformatics research world-wide is completely
upon public databases such as GenBank, PDB, Pub Med, and BIND.
Most academic and/or public affairs
disciplines, where data is usually assumed to be a public
similar sorts of communities organized around major databases.
These databases, are stigmergy
structures in which the data is updated by the users and, in
helps to organize the subsequent behavior of those same users.
The databases often support easy-to-use, yet sophisticated
domain-specific search functions. Social incentives, such as
mandates by granting agencies are encouraging researchers to put their
into these databases and most researchers focus much of their
activity around use of that public data.
VOIP and video conferencing services (e.g., Skype) are similar
to instant messaging communities except that they communicate
with higher bandwidth voice or video in addition to text
messages. The stigmergy structure includes not only a presence
registry, but also may use the combined bandwidth
of the users machines in a peer-to-peer model.
(P2P) file sharing networks (e.g., BitTorrent),
construct a virtual distributed stigmergy structure supported
by a constantly shifting collection of client machines with the
appropriate set of P2P message APIs. Each participating machine
makes available some files. Together
they collaborate to maintain an ever-changing distributed
presence registry that enables individual machines to search
out desired files. Music file sharing communities, together
with end user iPod/iPhone devices, have reshaped the way people
relate to music and thus reshaped the entire music industry.
They threaten to do the same for the movie industry.
- Blogs and Wikis are other
examples of public stigmergy “selves.” Wikipedia, created and
maintained by users all over the world has made old-fashioned
encyclopedias obsolete. It's stigmergy structure evolves
minute-by-minute, 24 hours a day, as the human "termites" add
and modify its pages. The content is supported and served by more
than 120 servers running Linux and Apache.
- Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook an many others
help form and organize human digital virtual 'social' groups.
Their stigmergy structures include the database of users and
links between users, as well as the data the users enter.
Individual users see value in the content provided by their
"friends" or other contacts and perhaps the status of claiming
a large group of "friends" or contacts. But marketers,
political campaigners, and intelligence analysts find much
more value in analyzing properties of the networks themselves
sites such as Flikr and del.icio.us collect and organize tags for
unstructured data. Folksonomy stigmergy structures consists of
both the data (e.g., photos or bookmarks) and the database of
tags that support
search. Thus, while the data and the tags are each stigmergy
structures, their interdependence strengthens both.
Note that all of these novel communities are organized
around new stigmergy structures, i.e., new digital selves, of a sort
that didn’t exist previously. Their worldwide scope, speed,
and enablement of new kinds of interaction emerge out of
the scope, speed, and protean flexibility of the Internet. They
also typically operate in a climate that is diametrically
opposed to the corporate tendencies to hoard and leverage
secret or proprietary knowledge.
Open Internet-based systems mutate and grow by the
activity of large numbers of users that share a stigmergy
structure. They mutate and evolve more rapidly than corporate
IT infrastructures. For example, P2P networks grow
organically because their infrastructure grows at the same
rate as their “customer” base. Each user contributes some
resources to the network in exchange for participating in the
network. Thus Skype, a free VOIP network, grew very rapidly in
its early stages with almost no expenditure of its own resources
while the Telcos struggled to adapt. Similarly, public databases,
once accepted in their relevant communities, can grow much more
rapidly than can a competing proprietary database. Many a
bioinformatics startup company has found it impossible to provide
proprietary for-fee databases in competition with free public
Read more about The
Evolution of Computing
“humanity” is an overstatement. Only the digitally connected
can participate. But cell-phones are making dramatic inroads in rural
Africa and India, and smart-phones will eventualy follow.
The reach of the net is threatened, however, by attempts to balkanize
the Internet into censored and controlled subnets, e.g., in
countries such as Singapore, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.
GenBank manages DNA sequence data, PDB manages protein
structure data, Pub Med
manages biological and medical publications, and BIND manages
protein-protein interaction data. There are hundreds of
other useful bioinformatics databases freely available on the
Last revised 5/27/2014