Steven Johnson on serendipity on the web

Came across an interesting article about endangered serendipity on the web. Steven Johnson bashed that piece arguing that there is a lot more serendipity in information finding on the web than in offline world (especially in librarier, encyclopedias etc.). I have mixed feelings about this – on the one hand, I do encounter lot of new information on the web. But is it enough?

As an example, Steven Jonhnson refers to the different types of information he encounters on the website <a href=”http://www.boingboing.netl.org/&#8221;. This, I think, is not the best example. BoingBoing is the web filtered through the perspectives of five poeple. You might encounter a lot of information, but you are seeing the world filtered through them. And unless you make an effort to have many sources, there will be a limited set of people you are seeing the world through.

As a designer, I take this seriously. For example, many popular social sites incorporate social networks as a strong element in their design. This is a good thing, but you can have too much of it. And it is important to also build in ways of going beyond such networks. And to explicity build in some elements of serendipity. One of the reasons I like tagging is that it provides conceptual rather than social links. And also services like del.icio.us encourage diversity rather than reduce everything to “most popular” like Technorati or the recently launched Share your OPML.

Another example, I am currently bored to death of my Bloglines feeds. I enjoy the writing of the people I subscribe, but its really boring to hear the same set of people day after day. And Bloglines encourages a static feed. No matter how good they are. They become predictable. When they link to something, you can predict what their perspective will be. And if you subscribe to popular bloggers, and also to aggregation engines like Memeorandom, then there is too much redundancy.

3 responses to “Steven Johnson on serendipity on the web

  1. An indication that you are hitting close to home with your “echo effect” hypothesis is that everytime I check popurls, I see the same sites tagged in del.icio.us, reddit, furl, etc.

  2. Serendipity is not just “finding-a-new-interesting-blog” or “coming-across-a-fascinating-article”. It’s a feeling of innate surprise, implicit shock.

    While you are surfing the www, you are sure, u’ll find one or more newer things, be it blog, article, essay whatever. Discovering these is not serendipity.
    Serendipity is infact like a beam of light which you may find while you keep opening those black boxes in life.

    ~Bhu1

    http://bhuwan.blogspot.com/

  3. What an excellent way to put it. You are right, I was confusing newness with serendipity.