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Stigmergic Collaboration

Stigmergy is a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. In that way, subsequent actions tend to reinforce and build on each other, leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, apparently systematic activity. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. – Wikipedia

Distributed collaboration tool: Wiki  GitHub

The initial plan was to set up a wiki to enable global collaborative effort. Wikis are great tools for distribute cooperation and have become the standard for large open collaborative projects.

However this approach was not taken for several reasons (see Wikis Limitations)

Instead GitHub was chosen as a distributed collaboration tool.

GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Gitrevision control system. Although initially a collaboration system design to share and work on software code it is increasingly being used for collaboration on other kinds of content (see unusual GitHub usage)

GitHub makes it super easy to make personal variants while keeping a way to share and reuse content between parallel projects (“Forks”). Linus Torvald (the creator of Git) has changed the social dynamic around forking, turning the idea of multiple versions of a work from a cultural weakness into a cultural strength (Read Forking is a Feature).

The old regime “makes it very hard to start radical new branches because you generally need to convince the people involved in the status quo up-front about their need to support that radical branch,”   “In contrast, Git makes it easy to just ‘do it’ without asking for permission, and then come back later and show the end result off — telling people ‘look what I did, and I have the numbers to show that my approach is much better.’” Linus Torvald

In practice, GitHub makes it easy to work using stigmergic cooperation principles.

Other considerations:

Although its interface is not as mainstream as Facebook and can be a little discouraging for casual users at first, GitHub also has social network features, and the site itself is increasingly used as a social network.

Another point is that although GitHub is a centralized service, users generally have their own local copies of the project they work on,

GitHub recipes might not look as good as your standard image-filled, neatly formated PDF. However unlile PDF and other format which can make it extremely difficult to copy GitHub makes it easy to share and improve.

See how you can participate

Notes on wiki limitations:

  • managing and maintaining a wiki community is heavy work: attracting contributors, welcoming them, making the community a living place is very expensive in term of time
  • only a few percent of participants are active so a wiki needs a large community to have enough active contributors
  • wikis are messy: because wikis grow organically according to users contributions, they need regular “wiki-gardening” to keep them tidy and up to date. Again this requires a large community and/or lot of management time.
  • keeping spammers out is always an issue in a wiki
  • wikis participants usually use consensus to decides what should be done, what is acceptable or not. Although this is useful, it can dilute some interesting yet less represented points of view and there are case where it’s important to have bold and even contradictory view represented. Additionally if consensus is the norm in small groups it can be very expensive to manage in large groups.
  • Wikipedia, the largest Wiki, is amazing. An incredible project with tens of thousands of volunteers. However there are some flaws in the design: as expert in wikipedia governance (editors) have more power than experts in topics regarding content production.
  • wikis are using distributed contributions but rely on a centralized platform where only one version of the current content can exist at any time (“one true version”) see this presentation on distributed wikis concept to learn more

Example of GitHub being used for documentation sharing & collaboration:

see: From Collaborative Coding to Wedding Invitations: GitHub Is Going Mainstream and Lord of the Files: How GitHub Tamed Free Software (And More)

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