Twitter is the human swarm: an always-on, open, global and decentralized conversation. Twitter has undergone a phase change as a communications tool, and we see its effects globally, from news of the attacks in Mumbai to Toronto’s tech scene. Something new is emerging, something very powerful: Twitter is becoming a platform for collective action.
In Toronto, #HoHoTO was a holiday party held December 16, 2008 to raise funds for the Daily Bread Foodbank that has had a big local impact and received coverage all over the online and traditional media. I think the Toronto tech community will look at this event the way some of us look back at the first BarCamp in Toronto in November 2005, a milestone in the emergence of a new community made possible by technology.
Since then, a myriad projects have hatched on or been assisted by Twitter. #thmvmnt is reimagining how free-agent creative and design professionals work, collaborate and make the world better. #ChangeCamp is changing the way we think about government, democracy and citizenship. #tsTO is a conversation about “TwitterSpace” – garages and war rooms provided by Twitter patrons that act as distributed temporary incubators for projects born in the swarm. #svc is looking to launch a Social Venture Commons leveraging the power of the hyper-connected twittersphere.
What is going on here?
Jay Goldman recently described it as ant colony communication – we’re leaving little pheromone signals in our digital wake. They act as attractors to trigger self-organizing behaviours among others in the colony.
Clay Shirky has talked about how online social networks and communities are entering a new phase of development, one of collective action. We’re watching this new form emerge from its cocoon, and it’s fascinating.
I believe it is, and I believe that this is not only good, but it is critical to our survival. All around us are huge, intractable problems of collective action: crisis and the risk of collapse are in our ecological, economic, political and cultural environments. What better evolutionary development than a collective intelligence enabled to in a decentralized way coordinate collective action to these very problems?
To realize the potential of this collective intelligence, we have problems to solve:
- How do we involve, include and reflect the values of the non-connected periphery in our hyper-connected core?
- How do the myriad fleeting ideas that emerge find stable structures to see them through to execution?
- How will existing structures have to adapt in order to allow this new potential to be realized and harnessed?
- Whose interests are served by the new emergent order and whose interests are harmed? How will those conflicting interests be negotiated?
If you’re interested in these questions and have some ideas on how to solve these meta problems, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or better yet join the conversation on Twitter: #swarmintelligence, I’m @remarkk.