The essence of self-organization is that system structure often appears without explicit pressure or involvement from outside the system. In other words, the constraints on form (i.e. organization) of interest to us are internal to the system, resulting from the interactions among the components and usually independent of the physical nature of those components. The organization can evolve in either time or space, maintain a stable form or show transient phenomena. General resource flows within self-organized systems are expected (dissipation), although not critical to the concept itself.
The field of self-organization seeks general rules about the growth and evolution of systemic structure, the forms it might take, and finally methods that predict the future organization that will result from changes made to the underlying components. The results are expected to be applicable to all other systems exhibiting similar network characteristics.