Wikipedia, Ants and Stigmergy

herring swarm

Swarming herring


I like to discover new words, new fields of study - new things in general. My new one for today is STIGMERGY. According to Wikipedia (an apt source or the definition, as I will explain) is stigmergy is a "mechanism of indirect coordination, through the environment, between agents or actions.” That is not a very clear definition.

The concept of stigmergy has been used to analyze self-organizing activities. Those activities cover a wide area: social insects, social media, robotics, web communities, and the wider human society.

One principle of stigmergy 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. This can explain the way an ant colony operates. It can also explain how Wikipedia articles are created and changed.

Social insects, like ants and bees, have long been a model of collaboration. Global knowledge sharing through asynchronous collaboration is a newer example. I believe I may have heard this word a or concept more than a decade ago when "Web 2.0" was a new and much-talked-about idea. Now, I hardly ever hear Web 2.0 mentioned - and that's not because we got past it and into Web 3.0.

The word is not all that new. It was coined in 1959 by French biologist Pierre-Paul Grassé in reference to termite behavior, from the Ancient Greek stigma, "mark”, “sign" + ergon "work”, “action."

You might hear the word used in a conversation about swarm intelligence. Swarm intelligence (SI) is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial and it is employed in work on artificial intelligence and applications such as cellular robotic systems. It has been studied in the natural world in ant colonies, bird flocking, hawks hunting, animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and the somewhat scary world of microbial intelligence.

The World-Wide Web is the first stigmergic communication medium for humans. The earlier telephone and even email don't count as stigmergic communication since they are only readable by the people on either end. Stigmergic communication means the messages are readable by everyone. And radio and TV don't fit the definition because they are read-only mediums for most people (until the Web emerges and the read/write of Web 2.0 takes hold). 

Wikipedia with its millions of contributors is an example of stigmergy. Its editors are a good example of how these traces of articles and edits left in the wiki environment stimulate the performance of a next action, by the same person or a different person(s).

I discovered (or possibly rediscovered) stigmergy from an episode of the playswellwithothers.org podcast with guests Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation and Clint Penick, an ant researcher and assistant research professor in the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University.

 

FURTHER READING
https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Stigmergy
"Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism I: Definition and components" 

Social Media Usage Worldwide

I came across this interesting post that aggregates "Essential (and Surprising) Social Media Statistics" by Bonnie Porter. The article's aim to to help inform social media strategies, but if you are in the almost half of the world that uses social media, these statistics should be of interest.

Why should we care? Because U.S. adults spend an average of 1 hour and 16 minutes each day just watching video on digital devices. Is that you? Well, 78% of people watch online videos every week. 55% watch every day.

The internet has 4.4 billion users 

There are 3.499 billion active social media users 

As of May 2019, total worldwide population is 7.7 billion, therefore 57 percent of the world’s population is on the internet. More people are online than those who aren’t online.

45 percent of the world is on social media

If you have the internet, there’s an 80 percent chance you have a social media account, too.  

On average, people have 7.6 social media accounts apiece

The average daily time spent on social is 142 minutes a day

User numbers on social media platforms change all the time and it's difficult to distinguish registered users versus active users (define "active"?) but these recent numbers are probably accurate as a group of the 10 biggest platforms.

  1. Facebook — 2.4 billion users
  2. YouTube — 1.9 billion users
  3. WhatsApp — 1.6 billion users
  4. Instagram (tie) — 1 billion users
  5. WeChat (tie) — 1 billion users
  6. TikTok — 800 million users
  7. LinkedIn — 610 million users
  8. Reddit — 542 million users
  9. Twitter — 330 million users
  10. Pinterest — 265 million users

The article also includes closer looks at the top 5. You might be surprised that 90 percent of Instagram users are younger than 35, so it joins Snapchat and TikTok as one of the young demographics social networks.

Our Collective Attention Span Has Fallen

Quick followup to my previous post about very brief presentations of research

The average human attention span has fallen to eight seconds — below the average attention span of a goldfish. At least, so said a recent wave of debunked press coverage from outlets including The New York Times and, uh, us. The factoid, which had no clear source, felt true. New research suggests this may be because a different attention span has shrunk recently — not the individual's, but the collective's.

Collective attention span is meant to mean how long a topic stays popular (or hot or trending). It is about public conversations.   

Homer Simpson too many optionsPeople study the how long of news stories, movies, hashtags etc. to see when it loses its appeal. Looking at the 2013-2016 hashtags trending on Twitter (one of the things that gets blamed for reduced attention spans) they found that the top 50 hashtags fell from 17.5 hours of trending to 11.9 hours. There was similar shrinkage on Reddit, Google Books and in movie ticket sales. 

Things don't hold our attention as long. At least online and with media. Is anyone studying attention span for real world things, like reading a book, looking at a painting, watching a sporting event?

The researchers say that this is part of "a more general development termed social acceleration, the impact of these changes on the social sphere has more recently been discussed within sociology. In the literature there have been hints of acceleration in different contexts, but so far, the phenomenon lacks a strong empirical foundation."

They created a model that suggests that our collective attention span shrunk due to growing competition. There is just too much media out there competing for our attention. "Our analysis suggests increasing rates of content production and consumption as the most important driving force for the accelerating dynamics of collective attention."

This isn't all that new. Overchoice or choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. The term was first introduced by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book, Future Shock.

The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz that argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.

"Decision Paralysis" is another term to put into this mix. 

I wonder that if we were simply presented with fewer choices, our attention span would increase. Though it is unlikely that we can roll the media content snowball back up the hill, perhaps we can individually limit our choices and improve our personal attention span. I don't have much hope of lengthening our collective attention span.

Google+ Joins Wave, Buzz and Orkut in the Google Graveyard

G+Eight years ago, I was posting here about Google+ (or Google Plus) which was an attempt by the search giant to compete with other social media sites (especially Facebook) for the social audience.

Now, they are deprecating Google+ (the tech term for turning off, closing, giving up on a service). Google has not succeeded at social.

My theory back in 20111 was that it might be because they weren't able to explain in a simple, clear way what their social services offered or how they were different from others like Facebook.

Do you even remember their earlier services Wave and Buzz and Orkut?

It is 2019 and the Google+ API deprecation which happens this month also affects Blogger’s Google+ integration for blogs like this one. The impact is not major but it does have effects when you kill off an integrated service.
  • Support for the “+1 Button”, “Google+ Followers” and “Google+ Badge” widgets on blogs will no longer be available.
  • The +1/G+ buttons and Google+ share links below blog posts and in the navigation bar will be removed. That will have some effect on the number of people who share or "Like" your posts.
  • Support for Google+ comments will be turned down, and all blogs using Google+ comments will be reverted back to using Blogger comments. That seems minor BUT it also means that the comments posted as Google+ comments cannot be migrated to Blogger and will no longer appear on your blog. 

Even Facebook Wishes It Could Clear Its History

FacebookThis year it was revealed that a lot more apps are automatically sending data to Facebook. In some cases this happens  even if the user is logged out of Facebook. For Android devices this includes an odd mix that includes Spotify, Kayak, Yelp, Shazam, Instant Heart Rate, Duolingo, TripAdvisor and The Weather Channel.

More recently, a Wall Street Journal study found that apps in Apple's iOS App Store are doing the same thing. In some cases, you have to wonder why the apps are sending personal data on things like like age, body weight, blood pressure, and menstrual cycles. 

Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor is an app that was sending a user's heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded, and Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker passed on when a user was having her period or when she informed that app about an intention to get pregnant.

Not to exonerate Facebook, but the apps were not "required" to pass that data to Facebook. Part of the blame certainly goes to the app developers for some laziness. Many developers use Facebook's pre-built software development kit (SDK). These pre-built SDKs allow developers to quickly build apps and the SDK will typically transmit most of the data automatically to Facebook.

Actually, Facebook claims that it tells app developers not to send "health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information." Since the WSJ report, they are telling developers of the flagged apps to stop sending that type of information. 

Why would Facebook want that kind of information anyway? It always comes down to targeting advertising. 

Denise Howell's latest free newsletter reminds us that Facebook's mark Zuckerberg had promised last year that there would be a "Clear History" feature that would allow users to check what information applications and websites have shared with Facebook and delete it. So far, it has not been released.

Denise (a well known lawyer due to her podcasting and social media presence) says:

It hasn’t happened yet, but the FTC is expected to impose a record-breaking fine against Facebook resulting from the company’s failure to comply with a 2011 consent order aimed at privacy violations that took place over eight years ago. In the ensuing eight years, Facebook’s privacy record hasn’t exactly been pristine. Accordingly, EPIC, Common Sense Media, and others think Facebook should be fined in excess of $2 billion. Jason Kint told Vice Media, “[a] fine almost certainly would not be enough to change Facebook’s behavior — we’re past that,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. For example: even after all the outrage against and scrutiny of Facebook over the past year, if you as a Facebook user want to make all your past posts private, viewable only to you, and if you want to do this all at once (as opposed to one post at a time; which is possible but who does that), you simply can’t. This is true even though Facebook actually provides a batch feature to limit the visibility of past posts; it just limits the ability to limit, which ends at “Friends.” (Let s/he here who hasn’t over-friended on Facebook cast the first stone.) If Facebook remains tone-deaf to this unfathomable extent, then perhaps it does need more than a record-breaking fine to encourage it to course-correct. Oh, and that “Clear History” tool Zuck announced at F8 last year? The one that was supposed to let people delete Facebook’s record of what they’ve clicked, Web sites they’ve visited, and other information Facebook gets from sites and apps using FB’s ads and analytics, and was ALSO supposed to let people turn off FB’s collection of their browsing history? Yeah, that was last May, and “Clear History” is nowheresville. So, what’s a lawmaker to do?

Working in public relations for Facebook must be a tough job these days. Clear your history, indeed.

In looking back at my own posts about Facebook, I found one from March 2006 in which I said "So You Think Facebook Is a Waste." Thirteen years ago the idea of social media was treated by many as a fad. Facebook was a two-year old site but was alreday the seventh-most heavily trafficked site on the Internet with 5.5 billion page views. It was threatening enough as a business that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought Facebook''s only competitor ta the time - MySpace. There an entire chunk of the younger population who never even heard of MySpace, which in 2005 sold for $580-million. Not a good investment, but who knew because the site still had more than 37 million unique visitors in February 2006 with 23.5 billion page views. It was the second-most trafficked site after Yahoo beating Google. 

How things have changed.