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, can be thought of as a software termite mound,
a new kind of digital stigmergy
code is organized by the “blessed” Concurrent Versions
System (CVS) repository that is under the control of the Linux
circle” (Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, etc). Clearly, the Linux CVS
code tree is both built by, and helps to organize the efforts
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
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
set granting agencies are encouraging researchers to put their
into these databases and most researchers focus much of their
around use of that public data.
VOIP and video conferencing services (e.g., Skype) are similar
messaging communities except that they communicate with higher
bandwidth voice or video rather than text messages. The
includes not only a presence registry, but also may use the
of the users machines in a peer-to-peer model.
(P2P) file sharing networks (e.g., Gnutella, Freenet, and
construct a virtual distributed stigmergy structure supported
constantly shifting collection of client machines with the
set of P2P message APIs. Each
participating machine makes available some files. Together
collaborate to maintain an ever-changing distributed presence
that enables individual machines to search out desired files.
Music file sharing communities, together with the new end user
devices, are reshaping the way people relate to music and thus
reshaping 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, for example, is an open
encyclopedia with over 1.1 million entries in the English
is created and maintained by users
all over the world. It's stigmergy structure evolves
minute-by-minute, 24 hours a day, as the human "termites" add
modify its pages. The content is supported and served by more
servers running Linux and Apache.
- Social networking sites such as MySpace, Twitter, and
help form and organize human digital virtual 'social' groups.
Their stigmergy structure 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
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
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
didn’t exist previously. Their worldwide scope,
speed, and enablement of new kinds of interaction emerge out of
scope, speed, and protean flexibility of the Internet. They
also typically operate in a climate that is diametrically
the tendencies corporations have to hoard and leverage secret or
Open Internet-based systems mutate and grow by the
activity of large numbers of users that share a stigmergy
mutate and evolve more rapidly than corporate IT
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
Thus Skype, a free VOIP network, grew very rapidly in its early
with almost no expenditure of its own resources while the Telcos
to adapt. Similarly, public databases,
once accepted in their relevant communities, can grow much more
than can a competing proprietary database. Many a bioinformatics
company has found it impossible to provide
proprietary for-fee databases in competition with free public
“humanity” is an overstatement. Only the digitally connected
participate. But cell-phones are making inroads even in rural
and smart-phones will eventualy follow.
The reach of the net is threatened, however, by attempts to
Internet into censored and controlled subnets, e.g., in
Singapore, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.
GenBank manages DNA sequence data, PDB manages protein
manages biological and medical publications, and BIND manages
interaction data. There are hundreds of
other useful bioinformatics databases freely available on the
Contact: sburbeck at mindspring.com
Last revised 9/1/2013