Posts Tagged ‘swarm’


Using ‘social navigation’ and ‘participatory surveillance’ terms for co-creation and joint action

October 8, 2009

Olga Levistova wants to deal in her master study the question: How does social surveillance become into participatory surveillance. Her investigations are related with our hybrid ecosystem studies in which we refer to certain swarming phenomena that take place as a result of something like social awareness and monitoring, social surveillance, and social navigation.

Here is the final thesis!

I started to wonder about the terminology, it seems some of these terms have an overlap and we need to think which is the right concept we are talking about.

Gary T. Marx (2005) wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Social Theory”:

Information boundaries and contests are found in all societies and beyond that in all living systems. Humans are curious and also seek to protect their informational borders. To survive, individuals and groups engage in, and guard against, surveillance.

Traditional surveillance often implied a non-cooperative relationship and a clear distinction between the object of surveillance and the person carrying it out. The new surveillance with its expanded forms of self-surveillance and cooperative surveillance, the easy distinction between agent and subject of surveillance can be blurred.

The new social surveillance can be defined as, “scrutiny through the use of technical means to extract or create personal or group data, whether from individuals or contexts”. The use of multiple senses and sources of data is an important characteristic of much of the new surveillance.

However, social surveillance has been detected in social software systems:
eg. Myspace and Facebook: Social Surveillance for the 21st Century

Christian Fuchs writes in his “Social Networking Sites and the Surveillance Society” about the rise of surveillance society.

He refers that Focault makes clear that surveillance is a repressive, coercive process:

Surveillance means that someone “is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 1977: 200).

Next Fuchs points that Giddens (1985) does not see surveillance as something entirely negative and dangerous, and argues that surveillance phenomena also enable modern organization and simplify human existence.

Further on, Fuchs refers to Anders Albrechtslund (2008) who argues that social networking sites show that surveillance is not necessarily disempowering, but is “something potentially empowering, subjectivity building and even playful”.

“Online social networking can also be empowering for the user, as the monitoring and registration facilitates new ways of constructing identity, meeting friends and colleagues as well as socializing with strangers. This changes the role of the user from passive to active, since surveillance in this context offers opportunities to take action, seek information and communicate. Online social networking therefore illustrates that surveillance – as a mutual, empowering and subjectivity building practice – is fundamentally social” (Albrechtslund 2008).

Participatory surveillance term is explained by Albrechtslund (2008) in Online social Networking as a participatory surveillance.

Albrechtslund refers that the term originates from Mark Poster and T.L. Taylor.

Poster argues that individuals are not just disciplined but take active part in their own surveillance even more by continuously contributing with information to databases. Taylor uses the concept to study collaborative play in the online computer game World of Warcraft.

However, Nicolas Nova and Paul Dourish have also used another term social navigation:
“ Social navigation is a term coined by Dourish and Chalmers (1994) that refers to situations in which a user’s navigation through an information space is guided and structured by the activities of others within that space.” (Nova and Ortelli, 2004).

The point is to find traces from other’s activities to help you performing the task you want to..

Alan J. Munro, Kristina Höök, and D. R. Benyon write in Social Navigation of Information space (1999):

Social navigation is a vibrant new field which examines how we navigate information spaces in ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ environments, how we orient and guide ourselves, and how we interact with others to find our way. This approach brings a new way of thinking about how we design information spaces, emphasising our need to collaborate with others, and follow the trails of their activities in these spaces.

Both in case of participatory surveillance and social navigation the focus seems on more how individual is benefiting if using the information available from other people’s action traces.
This is one, individual side of the phenomenon. Another side is collaboratively emergent action, artifacts etc. that may result from these monitoring behaviors – the system level phenomena
For example, swarming describes such non-coordinated aggregation behaviors, which become possible because of the signal traces left to the environment or read from other members in the system.

Question is, do we see such agglomeration behaviors in system as part of social surveillance or social navigation, as part of the means that INDIVIDUALS can use? Can we use term participatory surveillance or social navigation in agglomeration/global result context, or are we blurring the picture?

I believe that dynamic ontospace term can be used for the representation of our actions and meanings in social web.
Agglomeration of content or activities in ontospace, which makes them traceable uses semantic means. Visibility is often achieved by tags and mashups, pushing information to many spaces.

Paul Dourish and Matthew Chalmers distinguish between semantic navigation and social navigation:

[semantic navigation offers] the ability to explore and choose perspectives of view based on knowledge of the semantically-structured information.

In social navigation, movement from one item to another is provoked as an artifact of the activity of another or a group of others.

In 2008 Daniel Tunkelang wrote in his blog The Noisy channel:

Following Dourish and Chalmers, let us define social navigation as the ability to explore and choose perspectives of view based on social information. Social navigation, defined as above, offers users more than just the ability to be influenced by other people. It offers users transparency and control over the social lens. It allows us to think outside the black box.

Tunkelang uses the term perspective, that comes close to our own framework of taking perspectives in ontospace.

Taking perspectives, and becoming aware of and guided by collaborative perspectives seem for me the cue to noticing traces for participatory actions, collaboration, co-creation.

We assume in our paper about “Writing narratives as a swarm” with Mauri Kaipainen:

A perspective is a personal prioritization of shared ontospace dimensions. A perspective is by definition individual, but sharing perspectives determines niches. If noticing such prioritizations to be shared by more than one individual, these perspectives become community-defining, and facilitate some community actions more than the others, and contribute to the determination an abstract community-specific activity niche.

However, so far we have not used neither the social navigation nor participatory surveillance terms to signify that process. Should we use it?

Albrechtslund, Anders. (2008). Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance. First Monday 13 (3).
Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and punish. New York: Vintage.
Giddens, Anthony. 1985. A contemporary critique of Historical Materialism. Vol. 2: The nation-state and violence. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Poster, M., 1990. The mode of information: Poststructuralism and social context. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
T.L. Taylor, 2006. “Does WoW change everything? How a PvP server, multinational player base, and surveillance mod scene caused me pause,” Games & Culture, volume 1, number 4, pp. 318–337.


writing narratives as a swarm

April 22, 2009

Today I tried to map the design experiment findings from Hybrid narrative ecology on top of the foraging behavior in swarms.

writing narratives as a swarm

writing narratives as a swarm

Every time when individual starts some narratives it leaves a trace and focuses his own attention on certain features. This makes him accumulate more similar narratives until he becomes aware of the story.
So, web 2.0 stories are granular and appear even for the individual as a result of accumulating some idea traces, which works as an environmental feedback to notice more similar traces.
The more the narratives are accumulated, the more attractive and visible the story as a trace becomes, this attracts other individuals as well.
The attention is caught by various trace-leaving techniques like mashing, pulling and aggregating, tagging for social retrieval, social awareness technologies, hybrid maps etc.

Picking up traces of other individuals of the swarm depends on analogy or closeness of the attractors narratives to your own.

Is it a species specific? And the species is defined by similar culture, using same kind of retrieval, mashing, pulling etc?

Various collaboration forms may appear. One is agglomerating stories similarly like termites build the nest. The traces (pheromones) are glued to the soil material (the content of the narrative pierces, text, images).
This is kind of swarm-like co-working without initially decided goal, but still co-working emerges (eg. dedicating narrative pierces for the story). Cloning narrative pierces may also make the trace of the narrative more visible, similarly like pheromone traces are agglomerated due to the swarm activity. Thus cloning will hype up some stories.

Actually this story is not something that has start and end, but it is like the current or dimension that emerges when swarm collects narrative pierces individually. The story currents may remain individual stories, or may attract more storytellers.

Individuals tend to mutate their narratives. Most often these are errors, which always happen if we try to tell the same narrative. Interpretation happens most often if narrative is transformed from one environment to another, from one individual to another. This presumes translation from one system to another without complete coding correlation.

This may in the end change the attractor to the certain story so much that the story trace will be lost and individuals need to start the search for new narrative resources as new attractors.

Some mutations may also cause the appearance of new attractors that allure the swarm away from the story.


Timespace, what else

March 6, 2009

I have been running with some students an experiment of hybrid narratives.

We have been writing personal narratives and collaborating in the non-determined manner, presumably we have simulated something swarm-like.

Now we are in the phase of collecting data and looking ideas for analysing what we experienced. There are many ways. Today i came to one of my old blog posting about time-space, which seems to visualize what i always imagine as the activity and meaning paths within one ecology.

Here is the idea of personal time-space from a paper.


I think what is possible to do on the basis of our dataset is to show something similar. I am still thinking how to put on one figure places, experienced entities and their transformations.

Let’s imagine places are real locative spots from where i collected content.
In the next layer (Brightkite) this content did a permutation. In the more next layer (in Flickr) it changed one more time. And in Blog as well.

Instead of time, i could use the quantity of impressions or objects from this spot.

And i think i also need something for distinguishing my favourite categories of objects, either by meaning, activity, narrative or so.

For example my favourites may be trees, birds, shadows. Or some particular tags that i use distinguish my categories.

It is still not clear how i will visualise it…
My data are currently in excel format.

If i could map more than one person into this space, i could see something similar to ant-road in our little narrative ecology swarm.


Swarm – my first search in Communities and Networks

February 16, 2009

Swarm seems not yet so popular tag (i tested in Delicious and in Technorati it is mentioned less than 100 times a day).

However, i have started to believe it fits much more for describing the actual behaviors in hybrid ecologies.

Today i did my first search with the very potential swarm keyword in Communities and Networks Connection hub.
For me swarm describes activities in hybrid ecologies better than networks.

What i found:

Evolving web wrote:

…insects, dominoes – each adding up to a swarm, a chain reaction – when one insect or domino chooses to act in the right way at the right time.

Writing by one small, easily imprisonable, Solzhenitsyn can create massive change. People of good conscience can create a better world. But Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned.

Bumblebee wrote: swarms in primetime tv

What do killer bees, locusts, field mice, mayflies, starlings, cicadas, cuban land crabs, driver ants, redflies, locust birds, silver carp and honey bees all have in common? The “Wisdom of Crowds” or in other words the ability to Swarm in huge groups.

We discover what happens when superswarms invade our lives…

Swarms make it extremely difficult for predators to pick-off individuals and are an amazing way for the individuals to look out for each other and instantly share important information.

An exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques.

In another article Bumble Bee distinguishes characteristics of distributed P2P networks and swarms.

Peer to peer (P2P) is a specific form of relational dynamic, is based on the assumed equipotency of its participants, organized through the free cooperation of equals in view of the performance of a common task, for the creation of a common good, with forms of decision-making and autonomy that are widely distributed throughout the network.

P2P processes are not structureless, but are characterized by dynamic and changing structures which adapt themselves to phase changes. Its rules are not derived from an external authority, as in hierarchical systems, but generated from within. It does not deny ‘authority’, but only fixed forced hierarchy…

Equipotency means that there is no prior formal filtering for participation, but rather that it is the immediate practice of cooperation which determines the expertise and level of participation. Communication is not top-down and based on strictly defined reporting rules, but feedback is systemic, integrated in the protocol of the cooperative system.

P2P is a network is ‘distributed’, though it may have elements of hierarchy, centralization and ‘decentralization’; intelligence is not located at any center, but everywhere within the system.

Though P2P arises in distributed networks, not all distributed networks exhibit P2P processes. Many distributed bottom-up processes, such as the swarming behavior of insects, of the behavior of buyers and sellers in market, are not true P2P processes, to the degree that they lack holoptism, or do not promote participation. Insects in a swarm, do not have information about the whole, they follow markers that determine their individual behaviour.


Swarms, semiotic fitness, ecologies – ideas triggered from J.Hoffmeyer’s papers

January 18, 2009

I have been reading some articles of Jesper Hoffmeyer about the swarms, semiotics, semiosphere and ecologies and doing some thought connections with niches, affordances in new learning ecologies.

I believe that in new media communities the meaning/action based traces are left in the environment that determine the niches for these communities and also influence the niches of other communities.

The communities perceive/anticipate/translate meaning and action relevant cues (affrdances) from ongoing meaning-making and actions, as well as, from the traces of meanings and actions left in their niches.

The translation from cues/traces left in the environment and the relevant actions of the communities are explainable with the swarm-phenomena and with the general cultural semiosphere model.

Swarms are communities in which decision-making takes place based on cues/traces left by individual swarm members in the environment or picked up from their real activities. These cues determine the semiotic niche for the swarm community.

The semiotic fitness term applies to describe that specific cues are recognized and interpreted in the semiotic niche to establish well-being for the swarm.

The integration of the cues of other swarms may influence the swarm behaviour. The swarms need to translate the align, unfamiliar action relevant cues from the environment to their own system.

In general each swarm always deals with the semiotic niche that is dual – our own cues and align cues.
The borderline between common and align cues in the semiotic niche is constantly re-developed in the course of action.
The cultural semiosphere model (see Lotman, 1990) describes such a dual structure as a necessary condition for translation acts to take place, which may lead to new types of meanings and actions to emerge in the semiotic niche.

Since the swarms are entities at different levels, consisting of other swarms we can also talk of semiotic sub-niches for a particular community. The actions distinguish one niche from another – in principle the same ecology may provide different niches in which specific semiotic fitnesses are in operation.

Communities are not different of termites – they pile meaning and action traces as artifacts or system use preferences, and orientate and make decisions using these piles.

If we look communities in action – the same set of tools and artifacts may be interpreted and used differently in the course of individual learning, and when these individuals switch to collaborative problem-solving actions. Personal learning environments are changing in different semiotic niches.

Some interesting parts from the Hoffmeyer papers:

Hoffmeyer, J. (1995). The global semiosphere. Paper presented at the 5th IASS congress in Berkeley, June 1995. In Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr (eds.): Semiotics Around the World. Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies. Berkeley 1994. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter 1997, pp. 933-936.

The behavioural and communicative aspects of animal life are considered but they are generally not allowed to play any fundamental role in the dynamics of ecosystems or in evolutionary theory (Levins and Lewontin 1985). This bias towards the material and energetic aspects of ecosystem dynamics may have blinded us to the importance of the semiotic web unfolding throughout ecosystems.

Survival through semiosis implies a dynamic creativity. In addition to vertical semiotic system, i.e. genetic communication down through the generations, all organisms also partake in a horizontal semiotic system, i.e. communication throughout the ecological space (Hoffmeyer and Emmeche 1991).

The horizontal or ecological semiotic network has gained an increasing autonomy relative to the genetic semiotic system, i.e. the authority to make decisions was gradually delegated from the genomic systems to the organisms themselves.

The most important in horizontal semiotic system is the organisms’ capacity for anticipation, the possibility of foreseeing actual events and protect oneself against them or otherwise derive advantage from them.

The populations of organisms are forced to occupy specific semiotic niches. The organisms will have to master a set of signs of visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile and chemical origin in order to survive in the semiosphere. This semiosphere poses constraints or boundary conditions to the organism populations.

The semiotic demands to populations are often a decisive challenge to success.

Note. In another article he uses term semiotic fitness.

Wherever there has developed a habit there will also exist an organism for whom this habit has become a sign. There can be no doubt that the principle that one organisms’ habits becoming another organisms’ signs is at the very heart of the evolutionary process.

Ecosystems would not be stable were it not for the millions of semiotic processes built on habits which themselves were formerly built on other habits.


Hoffmeyer, J. (2005). The swarming body. Paper presented at the 5th IASS congress in Berkeley, June 1995. In Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr (eds.): Semiotics Around the World. Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies. Berkeley 1994. Berlin/New York: Mouton de
Gruyter 1997, pp. 937-940.

Semiosis is the basic principle of life. Semiotic competence is delegated to decentralised units like swarms.

A swarm has been defined as a set of (mobile) agents which are liable to communicate directly or indirectly (by acting on their local environment) with each other, and which collectively carry out a distributed problem solving.

The body swarm is not built on ten thousand nearly identical units, rather it should be seen as a swarm of swarms, i.e., a huge swarm of more or less overlapping swarms of very different kinds. And the minor swarms again are swarm-entities, so that we get a hierarchy of swarms.

At all levels these swarms are engaged in distributed problem solving based on an infinitely complicated web of semetic interaction patterns.

French biologist P.-P. Grassé made a semiotically very interesting analysis of
nest construction in termites (Grassé 1959). His conclusion was: “No direct interaction is necessary between the animals, since co-ordination is assured solely through the artefacts resulting from their behaviour.”

Hoffmeyer defines a swarm conception at the body-mind level: Swarms of immune cells interact with swarms of nerve cells in maintaining the somatic ecology. The view of a centralised authority in the brain controlling the ignorant body fades out of sight and is replaced by an interactive organisation based upon the distributed problem solving capacity of myriads of cell swarms working in parallel.

The transformation of molecules to signs opens for an unending semiogenic evolution based on semetic interaction patterns between entities at all levels. The swarm of cells constituting a human body should be seen as a swarm of swarms, i.e., a huge swarm of overlapping swarms of very different kinds.


Hoffmeyer, J. (1998). The Unfolding Semiosphere. In Gertrudis Van de Vijver, Stanley Salthe and Manuela Delpos (eds.), Evolutionary Systems. Biological and Epistemological Perspectives on Selection and Self-Organization. Dordrecht: Kluwer 1998, pp. 281-293.

Darwin was careful to underline that natural selection was a process very different from artificial selection in that no intention or purpose lay behind it. Natural selection was a selection without a selector (or even a selection principle since organic evolution had no privileged direction).

Note: If we consider that basic functioning of organisms appears through swarm-based semetic interaction patterns (units in swarms and swarms of swarms communicate directly or indirectly by acting on their local environment with each other, and carry collectively out a distributed problem solving), is it really the natural selection without a selector? It seems that in this case these units of swarms and the sub-swarms, and finally the swarm itself becomes a selector?

In the macro evolutionary perspective we can distinguish at least three dominating instances of emergence, which changed the rules of the evolutionary game:

a) The emergence of galaxies (the emergence of difference, i.e. the creation of lumps of certain matter in the middle of nothing).

b) The emergence of life (emergence of distinction, self-interpretation and code-duality, i.e. as analog codes the organisms recognise and interact with each other in the ecological space giving rise to a horizontal semiotic system, while as digital codes they (after eventual recombination through meiosis and fertilisation in sexually reproducing species) are passively carried forward in time between generations.

DNA does not contain the key to its own interpretation.
In sexually reproducing organisms only the fertilised egg ‘knows’ how to interpret DNA, i.e. to use its text for the construction of the organism.The interpretant of the DNA message is buried in the cytoskeleton of the fertilised egg (and the growing embryo).

Note: The role of ecological pressure and niche influence in the evolution may be considered as part of swarm-swarm interactions?

The appearance on the planet of self-interpretation leads us to the emergence of linguistic culture.

c) The emergence of linguistic culture (emergence of experience and cultural evolution through translations back and forth between experience of reality and its linguistic re-description).

Being self-conscious selves humans are the result of the evolutionary creation of a whole new kind of code-duality, a ‘meta’-code-duality so to say, a
duality of reality as analog coded experience perpetually interacting with its digital linguistic redescription in an unending chain of translations back and forth. The dynamic properties and creativity of this code-duality is the core of cultural evolution.

Note. Can we consider evolutionary interactions of organisms with their niches (eg. affordance-based approach) from the semiotic perspective. In this case the emergence of ‘liguistic culture’ between various swarms and their niches appears as a ‘cultural evolution’ already before self-conscious humans?

Semetic interactions refer to interactions in which regularities (habits) developed by one species (or individual) successively become used (interpreted) as signs by the individuals of the same or another species, thereby eliciting new habits in this species eventually to become – sooner or later – signs for other individuals, and so on in a branching and unending web integrating the ecosystems of the planet into a global semiosphere (Hoffmeyer 1993)

Semiotic fitness

Fitness depends on a relation, something can be fit only in a given context.
Genetic fitness may be a useful term in genetics, but if evolution is concerned what matters is not genetic fitness but semiotic fitness.
Genes may be fit only under certain environmental conditions.
But if genotypes and envirotypes (Odling-Smee and Patten 1994) reciprocally constitute the context on which fitness should be measured, it seems we should rather talk about the fit in its relational entirety, that is as a semiotic capacity.

The semiotic fitness, should ideally measure the semiotic competence or success of natural systems in managing the genotype-envirotype translation processes.
The optimization of semiotic fitness results in the continuing growth in the depth of interpretative patterns accessible to life.

Note. Semiotic fitness applies for the inhabitants active in niches and thus provides the interrelated activity/meaning measurment characteristic for spaces.


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