by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
culture, online, serendipity

Is Serendipity Lost Online?

from the i'd-say-it's-been-gained dept

I'm a big fan of Damon Darlin, at the NY Times, but I'm a bit confused by his latest, claiming that serendipity is being stamped out online, because people just go find stuff they want, rather than randomly discover stuff. Perhaps I'm just speaking for myself, but I end up finding random stuff all the time -- whether it's from seeing random links on Twitter/Digg/Fark or other sites, having people send me stuff or just chatting with people. I'd argue that I end up finding a lot more that's new and interesting than I did before the internet was around. Darlin tries to brush off the fact that people get stuff from friends on social networks, by saying that's "filtered" by who you choose to follow, but his own example of serendipity at the beginning of the article is: "When we walk into other people's houses, we peruse their bookshelves, look at their CD cases and sneak a peek at their video collections." Isn't that "filtered" by whose homes you happen to walk into? I walk into strangers' homes a lot less often than I hear about a new book, album or movie from someone on Twitter.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    The Cenobyte, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 5:39am


    I use it all the time. It's pretty random and I find kewl stuff all the time. It's about an unfiltered as you can get without being completely random.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Chris Wahl (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 5:48am

    Randomly Discover Stuff

    Frankly, poking around someone's home to "discover" things sounds a bit creepy, although I think I get what the author is trying to convey.

    Between Yahoo Pipes, several blogs (and one blag), twitter (including TwitScoop), and various online news sites, it's actually very hard to not be bombarded with new, random discoveries around the clock. Certainly better than the occasional visit to a friend's house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Rick, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 6:05am

    Funny thing is...

    I end up hearing about new random stuff every day from (guess where)... my Techdirt feed through iGoogle.

    Hasn't this man ever gone to youtube or wikipedia, started looking up something... and after 20 clicks of 'related videos' or any of the sub-links on the page, end up somewhere completely random and in no way similar to your original search?

    People who have no idea what they're talking about should just stop ... writing.

    I think I have an idea for a new website. It'll be called "Missed the Boat". Think similar to failblog... but it will display the comments and writings of those who simply "missed the boat" on technology. It's like they're over in left field ready for the pitch... and we're playing football. :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 6:24am

    Serendipity is driven by our own curiosity. It is that curiosity that makes one peruse someone else’s bookshelves, CDs, or video collection. Because this action is not taking place in the physical world does not mean it is not taking place. You can't stop human curiosity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Jim, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 6:44am

    Reddit has serendipity

    Ha that's funny, I find myself hitting the serendipity button on Reddit and the stumble on StumbleUpon, whenever I feel like just browsing...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    JJ, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 6:59am


    Reading this guys opinion is really surreal... I genuinely don't know what to make of it. Does he live in a different universe than the rest of us? I've always felt that the internet has pushed serendipity to incredible new extremes... every time I browse on wikipedia, amazon, youtube, or any of dozens of other sites I find dozens of unbelievable things that I never would have guessed existed before, let alone thought to look for them. I haven't even gotten around to signing up for StumbleUpon despite having been interested in it for years... I'm unexpectedly finding delightful new stuff every day *anyway,* so I can't imagine what else it could do for me.

    Compare to the brick-and-mortar world, where even when I go out looking for an unknown new experience I've got less than a 50/50 chance of finding it, let alone when I'm not looking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    I would agree to the fact that serindipity is being lost online if you use such things as google chrome (because it provides you with the 8 most visited websites) or igoogle because you compact all the sites you would visit anyways onto one homepage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Some Guy, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:20am

    How ironic... I randomly checked out this very article!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    interval, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:36am

    I guess when your job is as a columnist in a news paper you'll write about anything, even schlock nonsense. Of course, I blame the internet. Because prior to, all columns in all papers were festering with much needed FACTS and thought-provoking, cutting edge MATERIAL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:43am

    Re: umm

    That's the first thing I thought when I read this. I probably have 12 pages of favorites, and that's probably small compared to what other people have found.

    My roommate can spend hours clicking the related links in Wikipedia and Youtube (I've seen him do it).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:54am

    Interesting. Of course are people trying to find things they want. Did he ever get the idea, that people find random new things just in the process of finding things that they want?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Sheinen, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 8:44am

    I just spent around £80 on books through Amazon - I only wanted 1 book I'd read about 5 years ago, but Amazon showed me that it was the first in a long series. Plus, there were a few other series of books that I'd probably like too so stuff it! I ordered them all! Can't beat a good stash of books to get through, and eff me in the a, I wouldn't have known about any of them if not for the www.

    Particularly not when you consider the dreary, ignorant and uninterested staff that tend to monitor actual book stores today...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Aaron Martin-Colby (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 9:07am

    Totally wrong.

    This guy's way off. I have found more random stuff thanks to the internet than I ever did.

    The internet gives us control over our serendipity. We know we want music, so we go and randomly hit up band pages on MySpace. We want movies, we randomly watch trailers on YouTube. Serendipity is alive and better than ever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    MBraedley (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 9:19am

    Re: umm

    I was going to bring this up as well, in addition to Reddit and Digg. None of which I use, but that's beside the point. There's a lot of purely random stuff that you can find using just those three sites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 9:21am

    Re: Funny thing is...

    xkcd describing exactly the same thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 9:49am


    I blame the internet too. Normally I wouldn't give a crap about what someone wrote in a piece of useless paper, but now it keeps showing up online on my precious Google... damn boring newspapers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re: Funny thing is...

    "xkcd describing exactly the same thing."

    Damn, I was going to post exactly this. So, yes, I no longer have to get up and go somewhere (physically) for serendipity to rear its irresitably ugly head.

    Column deadlines can make people say strange things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Chargone, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:10pm

    the ultimate example of finding random stuff:
    tvtropes links.

    to the point where people actually put Warnings on such links because almost everyone who goes to them ends up spending hours just hopping from one to the next reading the random interesting things.

    i mean, sure, it's organized, but you never know Where you'll end up when you start down that path :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 5th, 2009 @ 12:35am

    Yeah, add me to the pile of people who discovers random stuff every day. I think you actually have to be deliberately closed-minded and ignore a hell of a lot of input online to not find new things you'd previously not heard of.

    Maybe the NYT just has an incredibly paranoid content filter and Mr. Darlin doesn't have home internet? If not, wilful ignorance is the only explanation for his problem. Hell, look at his "arguments":

    "But CDs have disappeared inside the iPod."

    Yes, I can carry around more albums than I could ever physically carry, many of which are downloaded from sites like eMusic and AmieStreet by independent artists I discovered through those sites.

    "And shelves of videos are rarely seen as we get discs in the mail from Netflix or downloaded from Vudu."

    Yep, I no longer have to be limited by the relatively meagre selection at the local Blockbuster.

    "And, one day soon, book collections may end up inside a Kindle."

    While the loss of a paper product would be a tragedy, it ain't going to happen in our lifetime. Besides, same argument as above - your local bookstore or library doesn't have Amazon's selection.

    It's not the internet's fault you can't look at a selection of virtually every album recorded, every DVD released and every book published and not find something new to discover.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    another mike (profile), Aug 5th, 2009 @ 5:05pm

    Re: Reddit has serendipity

    I type random words and phrases into Google and hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button. Always find something interesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 11:20pm

    So what if people find stuff they want, they're getting what they want. If they want to find random stuff they can google random things or click random links from random places. So is the problem that people are getting what they want and they're not getting random things they don't want?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Jessica F, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 1:30pm

    i just proved him wrong

    I would suspect having stumbled upon this article, after first clicking on CNN - Eco Solutions Green Inspirations, and then scrolling down to see the "releated blogs" only to find this blog, which lead me to read the original article....

    sorta proves him wrong, doesnt it? Otherwise, how can he explain how i read his article, if not for seredipty leading the way???

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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