It was long believed that the queen played a central role in the complex social order of an ant colony, through the exercise of direct command and control over her subjects. Not so. Biologist Pierre-Paul Grasse coined the term “stigmergy” for the anthill’s social organization. There is no central coordination, no hierarchy, no administrative mechanism. Each ant’s behavior is entirely spontaneous and self-directed, as it responds independently to the chemical trail markers left by other ants.
Mark Elliot, whose doctoral dissertation is probably the best study on the subject to date, applied the term “stigmergy” to any form of human socialization in which coordination is achieved not by social negotiation or administration or consensus, but entirely by independent individual action against the background of a common social medium.
That’s essentially the organizational form used by the Linux developer community, by networked resistance movements like the Zapatista global support network of the 1990s, and by the post-Seattle anti-globalization movement. It’s the way Wikipedia and al Qaeda are organized.