Creating self-organizing contact directories

Stigmergy is used in nature to integrate a system of individuals with an external environment. This same principle can be used to link a company with contractors, consultants and other kinds of external service providers.

The conventional way to maintain a record of external service providers is to use a database. Somebody has to decide how this is categorized. Fields have to be created to hold essential details and allow comparisons to be made between similar services.

Such a system is hard to keep up to date and, once created, the categorizations and fields are not easy to change. Often, such systems quickly degrade and lose much of their efficiency.

A stigmergic system provides a more efficient and relatively cost free method of recording external services. The responsibility for entering the information is transferred to the external services. This they will be keen to do, if they know it might influence management choices.

The system's flexibility and ability to self-organize allows it to quickly adjust to the changing needs of the company.

The way it works is very simple. Any external service supplier who wants to work with a company completes an online questionnaire. This questionnaire is designed to get all the information relevant to their services.

Instead of these answers being entered into a database, they are entered into the memory of an agent. This agent then becomes the service provider's personal representative within the company.

Everyone within the company has access to these agents, to ask them any of the questions that have been included in the questionnaire. They will be able to see how different agents answer the same question, enabling them to make comparisons between similar services.

Different departments in a company will need different kinds of outside services. This is easily accommodated by arranging for questionnaires to be different for each department, so that each department has their own agents specifically related to their special requirements.

Agents in a stigmergic system are not held in a database of any kind. They exist as independent entities on a Web site. This allows agent owners - the service providers - to be able to change their own agent's memory directly, without having to interact with the company's internal system at all.

Allowing external access to these agents and putting the onus of updating onto the suppliers eliminates the need for this work to be the responsibility of company management.

Such a system will be self-maintaining, especially if there is competition among service providers. Competition will put pressure on each provider to make sure their agent is doing a better job than the others. Accuracy of the answers given by the agents can be qualified by attaching departmental users' comments. Agents can also be deleted from the system where appropriate.

Note: The example in the "SEO project" section of this site will give you an idea as to how such a system can work in practice. As you will see, using an agent system, questions and answers in questionnaires can easily be compared and the adaptation of this system for creating suitable contact directories would involve nothing more than changing the questions and the names of the categories.