Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams

A group organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator, and led without a leader. Such structures exist in decentralization where many equal parties work together following an internal system. The social system depends on the cooperation of the whole in order to work and function as intended. Decentralized systems are becoming more apparent within our social structures however they are not always recognized. Our society leans towards a centralized way of thinking and sees the whole pattern of a system. Patterns lead to the idea of some sort of organizer that orchestrates the pattern. Things have a cause, and therefore a controlling factor. The centralized control mindset seemed to lead scientific theories until recently. Centralized systems seemed to be the only ones existing and the only ones that provided a solution. Bird flocks used to be thought of as having a leader the controlled the path of flight. People have relied almost entirely on centralized strategies, ignoring the decentralized approach.

Mitchel Resnick states that we have entered an Era of Decentralization. There is a trend that shifts toward decentralized structures, abandoning centralized hierarchies. Scientists have found more and more evidence of such structures in the systems with every scale from political structures dealing with a whole nation, to microorganisms.

The text states (pg 7)

“[…]neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it  … he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his invention.” Adam Smith

This paragraph reminds me of the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a way. Two neighbors might choose to share resources in order to have less, but stable income. If one tries to use up more land (resources) then they  come out on top, but have income for a shorter amount of time. As in the quote, if every individual “intends only his own gain,” than that implies that between the two neighbors sharing resources would not happen but rather each would only worry about their own income.

So far we had gone through a lot of exercises that applied decentralized models and have visited a couple of places that apply this structure. Meerkat and WOW follow a decentralized system with success. Do you think this is the right model to follow in order to enforce collaboration?

Can you think of an example where a centralized approach took place, but a decentralized one might have worked better? Or the other way around.

What is necessary to support a decentralized module? What factor does communication play?


Viki & Gus

Seven American Utopias

Dolores Hayden’s article explores the historical development behind the construction and collaboration of societal structures, taking an architectural perspective. In the XIX century there was a boom of idealists that saw the New World as an opportunity to set their ideals and experiment communal structures. In this text, Dolores Hayden provides a report and analysis in how this communities into the development of Utopian societies.


The opening of this article began with a description of the American landscape. As Columbus’s discovery, the land provided many freedoms and opportunities for exploration and experimentation. There was a liberating mentality where the land is a “new heaven” and a “new earth. ” Building a social structure with such freedom allowed for much analysis to take place. The relationship between personal prosperity and the prosperity of the community became very relevant. One of the most successful of these developing groups was called The Shakers which called their society a “living building.”


As these communities expanded, they developed very different ideals and described themselves in different ways. Marx and Engels described these changes as the “utopian socialist”. These groups expressed their social ideals into the architectural structures in order to build a perfect society.

The seven communitarian groups were called the Shakers of Hancock – Massachusetts; the Mormons of Nauvoo -lllinois; the Fourierists of Phalanx – New Jersey; the Perfectionists of Oneida- New York; the Inspirationists of Amana – Iowa; the Union Colonists of Greeley – Colorado; and the Cooperative Colonists of Llano del Rio-California. In this book, Dolores examines the conflicts and between authoritarian and participatory processes. The community planners came with ideals that would work for everyone and ones that could be replicated throughout. However, the end result was not as expected. The societies required more specific set of structures and the more detailed the planners got, the more they were focussing on specific groups of people rather than the whole. The issues between communal and private property also arose. The mentality of the people that they would prosper more, the more they use their resources to the fullest. However, this showed to not be of the best interest toward the community as a whole.

Vicky and Gus.


1] Is there an utopian structure for collaboration? How would you describe a perfect collaboration?

2] How important is it for a collaboration structure to be replicable in a different setting?

3] Meerkat seem to have a perfect balance between community and privacy, in which artists can work on their own projects, but also can work collaboratively. What can you take from Meerkat to structure your own collaborative environment? Are there aspects that can hinder you?