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" 

Cyberpsychology

data screensNew fields, and therefore new college majors, keep appearing. People used to say at education conferences that when we are teaching, we are preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist. It's true.

The latest one for me came with NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts' announcement that it will offer students a degree option in the emerging field of cyberpsychology. This is a field that explores the dynamics between modern technology and human psychology. It is the first of its kind in New Jersey and is the first academic program in the behavioral sciences to be offered at NJIT.

The 120-credit degree option, now available for enrollment through the college’s Science, Technology and Society B.S. degree program, involves a combination of traditional coursework in psychology, and study of basic concepts in computer science and information systems. The program also features specialized cyberpsychology course electives that address modern psychological issues of today’s technology-driven world, ranging from the psychology of social networking and online gaming to issues of cybercrime and cyberbullying.

“The iPhone, Uber, Facebook, smart homes, the internet of things, automation ... these are all commonplace and have a profound impact on society and individual psychology today, yet they were largely unheard of when the current generation of college students was born," said Kevin Belfield, dean of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts. “Given our contemporary dependence on technology, it is crucial to provide a focused study of new psychological phenomena arising from our digital world, and to understand how it is shaping our society."

The new option is also geared toward students training in a range of growing career fields with increasing demand for expertise in human-computer interaction — from cybersecurity and law enforcement professionals to app and game developers, to computer and information research scientists, to marketing research analysts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for market research analysts from 2016 to 2026 is projected to grow 23 percent, much faster than the overall average. Similarly, the employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to increase by 18 percent from 2014 to 2024.

For further program and course details:
https://csla.njit.edu/sites/csla/files/cyberpsychology.pdf
https://www.njit.edu/academics/major/cyberpsychology

What's Your Anchor Job?

anchor coffeeI retired a few years ago and then I unretired about a year later. I took on some part-time work and then I signed a one-year contract for some consulting. That runs out at the end of August and though I have no plans to do any steady work in the future, I plan to still do some consulting and design work. That work is very part-time and very selective on my part.

But what does that have to do with the title of this post? I'm reading about this year's IPOs. Just a few include Lyft, Postmates, Uber and Airbnb. One trend I'm seeing in that is independent contractors.

Lyft relies on its 1.4 million freelance drivers who earn, on average, $17.50 per hour with no benefits or organizing power. That has got to influence the U.S. workforce. This is called the gig economy, shift work, side hustles and other things. Something connected to this that I have also noticed is the idea of having an "anchor job."

The gig economy is supposed to be empowering as a professional choice. It allows you options. You do the work you want to do. You work when you want to work. It gives you lifestyle choices.

Of course, the downsides are no regular salary, probably less income, no benefits or security.

And so, we get the anchor job. That's the other job that provides benefits and stability. But it has to allow for the flexibility to allow for "side hustles."

I wonder how different this is from someone 50 years ago having a full-time job and then taking on other part-time work. My father did that. He wasn't fulfilling some creative dream. he was trying to make extra money. My side hustles have been only partially done for extra money. Luckily, I was also doing them because I found some enjoyment and the chance to use my creative side. That makes me think that there is some privilege involved in this latest version of extra part-time work.

Although making some money is important, the key to the side hustle is that it is at least partially enjoyable and fulfilling. Are your gig jobs ones that for whatever hours you do them you are willing to give up socializing and leisure time.

Why has the side hustle in addition to the anchor job grown rapidly in recent years? Is it the global economic climate or the ability to use social media to easily self-promote viral marketing? Is it because many of us find that anchor job to be unfulfilling?

Learn More:

Read newamerica.org/new-america/policy-papers/shift-commission-report-findings/

Listen to marketplace.org/shows/make-me-smart-with-kai-and-molly/109-now-lyft-public-what-happens-drivers/

Welcome to the Microcampus

workspace

A college "campus" is a rather general term these days. I'm working on designing courses for a "virtual campus" which is an extension of the idea of a campus without borders that emerged with online learning. There are small schools that may lack a robust campus library, student union, or residence halls, but what if the campus has no classrooms? Is it a campus?

I recall reading about students studying at a remote institution but they were "hosted" by a local learning center. Stephen Downes wrote about a Triad Model where the triad was composed of the student, the instructor, and the facilitator. The facilitator helped bridge the distance between instructor and student. Ideally, this online learning situation would include a community online but also offline (on site) with peers and instructors. I saw this idea re-emerge with MOOCs where students used a distant course but met at a site for that community support.

Neither of these models of learning really gained widespread use in any fully robust form that I am aware of. There is a newer version using the term "micro-campus"

A micro-campus will offer support and coaching. If offers access to tools, from high quality printers, even a 3D printer or others that students can't afford. It can provide meeting space and project rooms. In a non-academic setting, this sounds like co-working spaces

An article on The Chronicle (subscription required, unfortunately) talks about the University of Phoenix, the University of Washington, and the Georgia Institute of Technology using experimental, storefront-sized “micro-campuses.” I'm sure they looked at places like WeWork for ideas, also some not very academic setting such as Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores. The college micro-campuses might be located at the ground-level space of an apartment building. They are meant to be where students are located and in the community.

The examples of University of Washington’s Othello Commons in Seattle is 2300 square-feet at the base of an eight-story apartment building, A “Foundations of Databases” course meets there one night a week to help local residents develop basic IT skills.

Georgia Tech's distributed-campus "atrium” in midtown Atlanta (near the main campus) was still a work in progress when the article was written but feels very Amazon, including an app to interact with the space.

Are these true "learning spaces" or extension sites, satellite campuses or is the micro-campus really a new kind of space?

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.