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Animal Behavior: How Microsharing is Like the Honeybee Waggle Dance


Some of my readers may know that my background is in scientific research, and more specifically on the neurogenetics of animal behavior. One of the projects I was fortunate to be involved with was the International Honeybee Genome Project, within which I analyzed a family of proteins that likely underlies some of the social instincts that species exhibits. One behavior that honeybees perform is the “waggle dance,” in which a forgaging bee leaves the hive in search of a food resource, finds it, and then returns to the hive to report the good news via dancing. The speed of the dance is inversely related to the distance to the food, and the angle at which the dance is performed is directly related to the placement of the food in relation to the sun’s place in the sky (amazing, right?). Honeybees have been doing this for a long time, long before humans invented these “new” social media tools. Twitter and similar microsharing services like Identi.ca perform the same basic function. Twitter caught fire at the SXSW conference, where people would report that a certain afterparty was awesome, or too crowded, and attract or repel others to/from the location with the “resources” (free booze). Is this really so different from a waggle dance?

I had an interesting discussion about digital communication today at the international marketing and communications firm Fleishman-Hillard (thanks Rachelle Lacroix!) today, and one thing we discussed was why so many people seemingly still know very little about social media, generally speaking. Related to that, I’m fascinated by people’s fascination with the fact that I’m a scientist who’s gotten interested in social media and Government 2.0 – to me it just makes sense. It’s just one big animal behavior problem.

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