by: David Jennings 

If you've read my book, seen my presentation slides, or have just been following this blog reasonably closely, you will know that I'm a sucker for biological metaphors for discovery. I use these metaphors particularly in connection with information foraging and with the idea of people 'pollinating' social networks by spreading the word about their favourites on their profiles and blogs with widgets and playlists.

So I was especially excited to be introduced to Ken Thompson of Belfast-based Swarmteams (thanks to Steve Moore), because he takes biological metaphors even more seriously, and more rigorously, than I do. Take a look at The Bumble Bee, Ken's essays and blog at for proof: it's packed with resources and insight into teams and groups in nature (a research theme that goes back at least as far as Peter Kropotkin's Mutual Aid in 1902).

The extra good news is that Swarmteams have just launched an application of their mobile- and online-messaging technology to help bands tap the energies of their most committed fans. The idea, which also closely resembles some of the themes that Howard Rheingold developed in Smart Mobs, is that the top 'alpha' fans of a band will mobilise other fans and friends by spreading the word about new gigs/promotions/offers via SMS, email or instant messaging. The Swarmteams technology has feedback to establish trust in these fan networks, so indiscriminate spammers will quickly be filtered out. But trusted and proactive fans will get rewards for their advocacy.

This application of Swarmteams is a real world realisation and test of some of the armchair future speculation I posted a few weeks ago, so it's really interesting to see how it will turn out. The alpha fans that Swarmteams aims to appeal to are also almost identical to the Savants and Enthusiasts described in other research I've drawn on. This is definitely a space worth watching.

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