Another interesting article (2006) - key points I think are relevant but overlooked when it comes to the concept of stigmergy and its influence on collaboration: the role of communication to enable effective collaboration, and the influence of "social negotiation" to guide the collaboration process of small teams.
Most concepts of collaboration are unfortunately very document and workspace centric. We tend to think of communication as something divorced from "joint work". We tend to think of communication as "not collaboration" even though communication is what often enables the cognitive context and situational awareness necessary for all participants to work jointly together over time and space. Secondly, there has been a tremendous focus on "process" lately in E2.0 circles. And while I don't disagree that infusing process and social is a sound approach, from what I've been reading - we are again forgetting the relationship and environmental aspects of collaboration (refer to Collaboration: The Long Journey). Process is just one structural context within a broader collaborative environment.
Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part. A highly complex nest simply self-organises due to the collective input of large numbers of individual termites performing extraordinarily simple actions in response to their local environment. Since Grasse’s research, stigmergy has been applied to the self-organisation of ants, artificial life, swarm intelligence and more recently, the Internet itself.
Source: Twitter, @Roundtrip (Greg Lloyd)