Tuesday, October 16, 2007

PhD Completed!!!

Examined, bound and submitted - and what a good feeling it is!

I thought I might provide a general overview of my dissertation for those interested.

I was supervised by Elizabeth Presa, Sean Cubitt and Warren Burt and was examined by Howard Rheingold and Francis Heylighen. You can read the examination reports here.

Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration

Abstract (first paragraph)

'This thesis presents an application-oriented theoretical framework for generalised and specific collaborative contexts with a special focus on Internet-based mass collaboration. The proposed framework is informed by the author's many years of collaborative arts practice and the design, building and moderation of a number of online collaborative environments across a wide range of contexts and applications. The thesis provides transdisciplinary architecture for describing the underlying mechanisms that have enabled the emergence of mass collaboration and other activities associated with 'Web 2.0' by incorporating a collaboratively developed definition and general framework for collaboration and collective activity, as well as theories of swarm intelligence, stigmergy, and distributed cognition.' >> full abstract

The core insight of the thesis is that mass collaboration (Wikipedia, open source software, Second Life etc) enables a shift from social to cultural negotiation, shattering the traditional glass ceiling of collaborative participation from approximately 25 members maximum, towards hundreds of thousands and beyond.

Social negotiation is the means by which all traditional collaboration takes place and is characterised by turn-taking communication. In the case of mass collaboration, a digital workspace mediates participant interaction, providing stigmergic cues to negotiate contributions via the various literacies associated with digital technologies and the particular workspace's norms, languages and 'netiquette'. While this does not preclude turn-taking communication, it places the interactive focus on cultural information which serves as the first point of engagement.

In other words, the workspace acts as a boundary object that removes social barriers to participation in online contexts (establishing, negotiating and maintaining social relations with thousands of people) and streamlines the creative process through providing a single site of work to a theoretically infinite number of participants.

Many other themes and sub-frameworks contribute to the overall work such as
  • an in depth review of the state of stigmergy research and applications;
  • a original, general theory of collective activity;
  • an etymologically researched, cross-disciplinary, collaboratively informed definition of collaboration and the beginnings of a general theory of collaboration;
  • a framework for understanding indirect, mediated communication;
  • the documentation of a number of real-world projects which apply and test the findings of the thesis;
  • and of course, a framework for mass collaboration which integrates the above as well as preexisting frameworks and theories.

The dissertation may be downloaded from:

I would love to hear your opinions, so please feel free to comment!

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At 2/21/2008 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

I really found your dissertation fascinating. Thank you. Could you recommend some books for me to get started reading in this area? I posted a link to your dissertation on my own blog.


At 2/21/2008 10:42 PM, Blogger Mark Elliott said...

Hi Mark, thanks for the blog post and I'm glad you found my work engaging!

Books, hmm, well, there's not a lot out there yet on human-human stigmergy. Here is a fantastic report on the subject by Parunak (a research leader in the area):
Expert Assessment of Human-Human Stigmergy

Other great books tending in this direction are 'Smart Mobs', 'Everything is Miscellaneous', 'Wikinomics', 'Wealth of Networks'. However, there really aren't any books on the subject yet that I am aware of (i'm trying to get time to work up a version of my thesis for publication!).

Another, more bite sized work of mine on the subject:
Stigmergic Collaboration: the evolution of group work

There's also my bibliography, which is pretty good sized.

Let me know if you have more questions/ideas etc.


At 5/29/2008 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting. i have long been interested in knowing the anthropological effects of real time online communities.

And i also know a fancy new word "Stigmergic" :)

At 7/22/2008 3:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
I found your work through searching "collaboration" on twitter of all places. And I did that after reading the blog of one of my contacts who is blogging a conference in Melbourne I can't get to. And he was reiterating key point from a presentation he found particularly striking ..... etc etc. Gee I love networks!
Anyway I'm very very interested in your work but found your new site not working tonight. I'l try again later.
I'm getting heavily involved in understanding collaboration and helping businesses do it better. I am also bursting with ideas of what just might be possible in the Internet wild (plunging into the Coarsian floor as Clay Shirky puts it). For now I'm reading your M/C journal article but look forward to the dissertation.

At 7/24/2008 12:24 AM, Blogger Mark Elliott said...

Hi Serena,

Thanks for your comment and i'm glad to see more interest in this area. I'm sorry my site was down - i've had some teething issues with a recent platform migration, but hopefully all's working now. Please let me know if you have any more troubles and feel free to contact me if you want to discuss ideas further:

me -AT- mark-elliott.net


At 8/24/2008 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the kind post...sorry I did not respond earlier. Will be checking out your work very soon! :)


At 3/28/2010 8:38 PM, Anonymous Träsel said...

The links to the PDF and HTML versions seem to be broken. Or is it a Chrome bug?

At 3/28/2010 8:49 PM, Blogger Mark Elliott said...

I think the links have changed actually...

My main web page for the phd now days is at Mark-Elliott.net.

Thanks for the note, I'll have to update these!


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