Communities, swarming in the virtual world
Vice-President, Head of Machine Intelligence at Atos and member of the Scientific Community
Chief Architect, Distinguished Expert and member of the Scientific Community
Do van Rijn
Bid Executive at Atos
Posted on: 12 February 2020
In our previous blog article in our series on Swarm Intelligence, we demonstrated how Swarm Intelligence can help people take advantage of this new paradigm, e.g. by applying it to societal or industrial purposes. Early adopters can definitely create top value and stand out from the competition.
Nevertheless, the tangible value of Swarm Intelligence is not only driven by algorithms as already explored. Let’s see how it brings advantages to both communities and businesses.
From tribes to swarms
Applying Swarm Intelligence in the human domain is not only about applying it to technology. People themselves tend to swarm as well!
In ancient history humans grouped into tribes to enhance their chance of survival in a hostile environment. This grouping of people evolved from the development of the first villages into today’s megacities. Nowadays, people tend to group for economic purposes, either in companies or trade associations, or socially, creating a sense of identity and belonging among like-minded people.
Originally these groupings of people relied on direct face-to-face contacts, hence local proximity of the individuals. In this type of situation, it is clear who you are dealing with. These personal relationships built upon trust are supplementary to any formal participation agreement (e.g. job contracts, membership registration of a club).
The self-organizational capabilities of a group assure its perpetual orientation toward a common goal. Without central authority, the members divide the work among themselves, depending on progress and availability of team members. The obtained result is a form of memory, also called “stigmergy”, that is directly visible to everyone and thereby supports the decision-making process and the coordination of next steps. This applies very well in particular when dealing with a high degree of uncertainty or turbulent environment that may affect the goal attainment.
Self-organization makes the difference between a crowd and a Swarm
From physical to virtual swarm
The rise of the internet has opened new ways for people to group. Anyone can be connected any time / any place, at a global scale and, in most cases, for free. IP-based communication has rapidly substituted traditional telephony and is also used to reduce expensive, time-consuming and eco-unfriendly travels.
What we have seen over the last two decades is an explosion of internet-based groupings, the virtual communities, in the C2C (social networks), B2C (commercial platforms) and B2B (trade associations) areas. The success of these communities relies on two key factors:
1. A tangible individual benefit that a participant obtains from joining the community.
2. A certain degree of trust among the participants to obtain active participation in reaching the community’s overall objective.
Communities can range from fairly loose gatherings of participants, sharing information or just socializing, to groupings with a formalized membership and the ambition of achieving a particular task together. The more ambitious the task, the more dependent this will be on the active (and lasting) contributions from their members, and consequently the higher the return of such investment for each of the participants will need to be.
The internet provided a fertile breeding ground where just anyone could start a community with little investment. The successful communities provide the basis for people and companies to meet globally, to conduct business (electronic marketplaces), find likeminded people (social networks), exchange knowledge (like Wikipedia). These communities managed to strike a balance between what the participants need to invest and what they get in return.
In spite of today’s risks, like undesirable, if not criminal behavior that still occur due to lack of maturity, the internet offers a tremendous platform for people and companies to shape virtual communities in pursuit of some mutual interest. But we should not forget that what we do in the virtual world is connected to the real world where this interest resides.
What future organizations will look like
As the digital world matures, we can expect that communities professionalize as well, for instance through adopting Swarm Intelligence principles. These communities will also develop their own economic models and incentivization mechanisms, leading to new types of social contracts.
The need for an organization to be more responsive to an increasingly uncertain and volatile environment, the shift toward knowledge-based economies, almost everyone and everything being connected in the digital world, growing flexibility and commoditization of technology, are just a few trends that put classical organization models under pressure. Specialized companies will shape up by bringing workers virtually together to collaborate for a certain period toward specific goals or to perform tasks in a swarm-like manner. Such companies will need to liaise with other companies, each covering a particular part of a business chain. Like with workers, these liaisons may be of temporary nature, thereby forming swarms (or “ecosystems”) of companies.
In our next blog, we’ll explore why it’s time to engage with nature through Swarm Intelligence and the concept of the Biomimicry era.
Read the full blog series here:
- The rise of the Swarm Intelligence era
- Swarm intelligence as an innovation booster
- Swarm Intelligence promises to make our life and business easier
- Swarm intelligence, a driving force in our ultra-connected world
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