TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Of Stigmergy and Memes (Part 2)

Joe Gregorios then connects the threads of the Web, Blogs, Google, Neighbourhoods, Memes and Stigmergy together:

The World-Wide Web is the first stigmeric communication medium for humans. The telephone and email don’t count as stigmeric communication since they are only readable by the people on either end of the phone call, or the e-mail. In order for an environment to support stigmeric communication the messages must be readable by everyone. Radio and TV don’t count since they are a read-only medium as far as most people are concerned. In order for an environment to support stigmery everyone has to be able to not only read it but to be able to write into it also.

Oh sure, we have had books and newspapers, but for the vast majority of people the only avenue they have to ‘write-back’ into that environment is in the ‘letter-to-the-editors’ department. Now we have Yahoo Groups, K5, Slashdot and weblogs. All avenues for anyone to enter into the conversation.
Now that we know web is a stigmeric communication medium and that we’ve seen some of the power that nature has gotten out of stigmergy the answers to our earlier questions become rather easy.

Why does communicating through a weblog work? Stigmergy. Using a weblog is communicating through stigmergy. Just like an ant, as I blog I leave a trail of information and links to other information I find interesting.

Why is Google’s PageRank algorithm so good? It is just following the Ant Trails. If links represent a dropping of pheromone then Google is just following the trails laid down to the tastiest morsels.

Why do Neighborhoods form? Ant Corpse Piles. Just like Ant Corpse Piles, if I link to you and you link to me that brings our weblogs closer together. The more we talk about similar stuff the more likely we are to cross link to each other. The more links to each other and the more links from us to similar material on the web the closely Google thinks we are related. The habit of ‘welcoming’ new bloggers with similar interests by linking to their site with a welcome message only grows the pile.

Why do memes spread so effectively on the web? Stigmergy. Because they are travelling through a stigmeric medium. They can live on the internet where anyone can find them either intentionally, by using Google to follow the trail, or serendipitously by the idea moving into a receptive neighborhood.

Joe concludes: The World-Wide Web is human stigmergy. The web and it’s ability to let anyone read anything and also to write back to that environment allows stigmeric communication between humans. Some of the most powerful forces on the web today, Google and weblogs are fundamentally driven by stigmeric communication and their behaviour follows similar natural systems like Ant Trails and Nest Building that are accomplished using stigmergy.

What Joe left unsaid and what Mike did is make the connection between Stigmery and the Memex, an emergent system for information management based on the individual, collective efforts of all of us.

Tomorrow: Emergence

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.