Bacteria Talk, Digg it! Tweedleydeeldeydeet!

8:15:00 AM


When bacteria talk, they cast their vote. And when their individual votes are numerous enough, they act, and they act in unison.

It's probably the holy grail of marketing to discover the precise mechanisms of viral videos and viral anything on the Internet, and if these erstwhile marketers had had any interest in their one and only biology course in college or any interest in biology whatsoever in the form of a TED talk, they might have gleaned from the primordial world a clue as to how individuals congregate into united action.

The nomenclature of Digg.com votes and the use of "viral" in viral videos, it would seem, is no accident.

Here's how it works on a microscopic level: the simple bacteria, in the average course of a work day, dispenses a chemical particular to its species into its environment. That chemical is identical to the one's that others of its like secrete. The purpose of this chemical is to merely announce to the world of bacteria like it, "I am here."

When enough of the bacteria are in close quarters secreting this chemical, the density of this, hormone or pheromone, as it were, says to all the bacteria to perform an action that their single-cell, one-and-only function dictates like becoming phosphorescent or to initiate their virulent attack on their much larger host - something no individual bacteria has hopes of doing alone.

The biologist's term for this activity is called the "Quorum Vote."

The human equivalent is called the "Digg."

The ramifications of a Digg being ascribed to a specific behavior or set of actions to be done when Digging gets to a certain level; that is to say, if Digging it not only pulls it to the top of the list, but also is a call for some sort of action, or product for that matter ....

Digg, at the end of the day - if as below, so above with our bacteria friends then the presumption is by our innovative advertiser or new-media periodical, that a threshold of diggs constitutes an action on the part of the producer of the content.

Bacterium, it's been understood thus far, were, as a phylum, independent, single-cell organisms whose function was merely to consume enough that mitosis would kick in and it could copy itself by splitting into two. That is, on its best day, the high school biology class would swoon with excitement at witnessing under a microscope the act of a ripe bacterium, fat with eating, decide that it was going to expand the scope of its singular DNA by making two of itself.

I suppose it's a strange model to pitch these days - that the audience for advertisements and news articles - could initiate collective activity spearheaded and organized by the agency producing the media, but in this enterprising age ... Anything's possible.


Part 2:

A co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, is vocal in his experience of seeing his simple concept - answering the question "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less - be used in innovative ways - in bacterial ways, if you will. While Twitter would on its surface seem to suggest that answering that question might yield rather banal offerings like "brushing my teeth," or "deciding on Newman's Own spaghetti sauce or Barilla," it would seem that when banal and ordinary individual are in extreme circumstances, the Tweet can, like the bacterial pheromone, unite individuals into common action.


One of the examples Williams cited were the Tweeters would announce gasoline prices they'd observed while driving around town. The utility of such reports by individual "cells," as it were, is evident when in fact the colony of Atlanta is, like everywhere else, suffering from the toxicity of the fueling-the-car-environment to their pocket book.


No doubt, the Tweets, like the bacterial chemical counterpart played a role in shaping the behavior of drivers of like mind, and perhaps opens an insight into means engineering collective behavior derived from the animal kingdom.


Time should reveal if there's a model to be uncovered through mechanisms such as Twitter. There might even be avenue for networks of tweeters united towards the same goal - especially if that goal happens to be, like in the bacterial realm, the mastery by individuals over a much larger, more complex and infinitely massive cultural trend or idea that no One Man Army could ever challenge alone.

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