Leave a trail

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Also known as stigmergy. An important pattern in large-scale, emergent collaboration. This is essentially what ants do that results in collective intelligence — things like their extraordinary anthills.

As groups become larger and more diverse, trying to manage the group from the top down becomes significantly more difficult. Encouraging people to Leave A Trail with their every day work practices facilitates emergent collaboration and scales.

In meatspace, community engagement and creating artifacts are generally two separate activities, although they can (and should) occur in concert with each other. In online space, by definition, community engagement and artifact creation are the same thing.

Leaving a trail in real-time and in aggregation can result in a visible pulse.

Choosing Online Tools

Leaving a trail is so important for catalyzing networks and for enabling collaboration. However, it's not always obvious what tools are good at enabling this critical pattern. What makes it even more challenging is that some tools are fantastic for interaction or flow, but are very poor at leaving a trail.

Here are things to look for:

  • Is the information open? If it's a closed system (e.g. behind a password or other forms of access control), then people outside of a closed group won't be able to find it.
  • Is the information addressable (or linkable)? In other words, can I point to that information? If I can't point to it, then I can't refer to it, I can't organize it, and so forth.

If you can't point to it, you're not leaving a trail.

Anything behind a firewall is siloed.

A non-archived email is also siloed, because you can't point to it later. Forwarding is not the same as pointing.

See Also