Dr. Elliott’s PhD thesis articulates a comprehensive theory of collaboration that can be applied in all sectors and at all scales. It forms the basis of Collabforge’s method for purposefully engineering collaboration in an organisational context, through the application of social technologies.

Download the full text (PDF – 30MB): Click here to download.

Abstract below.


Citation: Elliott, Dr Mark Alan (2007) Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration. PhD thesis, Centre for Ideas, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

Status: examination complete, final bound version submitted, graduated!
Supervisors: Elizabeth Presa, Sean Cubitt, Warren Burt
Examiners: Howard Rheingold, Francis Heylighenread examination reports
Word count (approximate): 52,000
Creative Projects: The below links point to the online projects undertaken as part of this PhD. (A DVD-Rom of the projects was originally submitted – the following links point to the original live sites.)

For a summary of some of the key ideas presented in the PhD, see Stigmergic Collaboration: The Evolution of Group Work.


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.

Accompanying this creative arts thesis is a DVD-Rom which includes offline versions of the three Internet based collaborative environments designed, built and implemented in accordance with the frameworks for digital stigmergy and mass collaboration developed in the written work. The creative works in conjunction with the written thesis help to explore and more rigorously define the collaborative process in general, while testing the theory that stigmergy is an inherent component of collaborative processes which incorporate collective material production.

Supported by a range of contemporary examples of Internet activity, including the accompanying creative works, it is found that stigmergy is a deeply rooted mechanism inherent in not only traditional material collaborative processes, but a range of emerging online practices which may be broadly categorised as digital stigmergic cooperation and collaboration. This latter class enables the extreme scaling seen in mass collaborative projects such as Wikipedia.org, open source software projects and the massive, multiplayer environment, Second Life. This scaling is achieved through a range of attributes which are examined, such as the provision of a localised site of individualistic engagement which reduces demands placed upon participants by the social negotiation of contributions while increasing capacity for direct and immediate creative participation via digital workspaces. Also examined are a range of cultural, economic and sociopolitical impacts which emerge as a direct result of mass collaboration’s highly distributed, non-market based, peer-production processes, all of which are shown to have important implications for the further transformation of our contemporary information and media landscape.

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