08
Apr 13

The Future: Near & Far

I was catching up with David Cranor today. He’s one of the smarty-pants people who helped bring the Form 1, and we had a great chat. David’s been hanging out in Shenzhen, marveling at the ecosystem that’s emerging there from all the high-tech manufacturers existing in such close proximity. We were sort of just chatting about China, Google Glass and whatever when he made this offhand comment that really struck me. He said

It’s really easy to predict the far-future, but it’s really hard to predict the near-future.

He’s dead on, and that thought caused a lot of things to line up for me. Technology has always accelerated our environment. But the changes in the past ~10 yrs have actually created a space between what is emerging (near-future) and what is true change (far-future). This is a powerful distinction for me because it (rightly) implies we have a few problems when we bring new ideas into the world. We have near-future problems, which mostly hinge on behavior and adoption. And we have far-future problems, which are more about scale, economics and competition. And as the saying implies; if you cant create a near-future, you have no shot at a far-future. 

The Near-Future
As David rightly stated, it’s really hard to figure out which ideas people will adopt in the short-term. We each live such a full existence, we’re regularly trading experiences. And we have endless ideas vying for our attention. At this point, you’re off better asking what someone would trade for your experience rather than understanding if you have a “good idea”…it’s all relative. I feel like this competition for  attention (and affection) is one of the reasons design has become such a powerful tool in such a short period of time. To survive the near-future, things have to be engaging, they have to be easy. These are the new table stakes. 

The Far-Future
The far-future is a different set of problems. It’s about scaling an idea and learning at a much bigger scale. If you’ve exist in the space, you can use your scale to bend the will of the world (for a short time, anyway…think airlines and mobile phone companies.) Sometimes we miss the near-future for the far-future because certain ideas just seem inevitable (like robots, as @Faris pointed out on Twitter.) For things to bridge to the far-future, you have to build some sort of on-ramp through the near-future. Amazon is a great example of this, Netflix may me one. 

These are not new problems, but I’m interested that the pace of our lives may be separating what once seemed like one problem into two distinct spaces. Either way, it’s a helpful framework to understand which problem you’re solving; interest/adoption or scale/competition.


03
Apr 13

The Evolution of Social Filtering

So this morning, I started playing around with Quibb (w/some help from Andrew Weissman – thnx Andrew.) I’ve not spent lots of time with the service, but very quickly it had me thinking about how we filter content online, and how we’ve evolve to this point. I think Quibb might be on to a big idea, but they have a little bit to go before it’s realized (and I write this with patience and respect). It’s hard to have a vision, build a team, write software, and scale the whole circus to a real-deal offering. But I saw a few things today that inspired me, so I’ll try to point them out. (And apologies, heavy nerding ahead.)

Evolution of Social News
So, we’ve been collectively taking stabs at curating content on the web for around 15-16 years now, according to this Wikipedia article (which isn’t a bad recount). I would basically break everything down into a few phases…

  • Static-Curation – The early days when the editors of a site would decide which articles are featured over the whole body of content.
  • Crowd-Curation – This is the era of Digg.com & Reddit where we rely on the crowd writ large. We start to up-vote/down-vote, content placement becomes dynamic.
  • Social-Curation – At this point we lose faith in the larger crowd for meaningful curation, and we start to hook our wagons to the social graph (courtesy of the Facebook API.) 
  • Portal-Curation – Realizing the social graph doesn’t really provide much excitement, we lean on portals like Tumblr and Pintrest to show us the darker corners of the web. It’s an evolution because we start following content-specific curators, but it’s best for bite-sized content (mostly images, and quotes.) 
  • Participatory-Curation – I think we’re edging into this. Built on a graph of curators and a mechanism for conversation, we start to filter news we’ll be interested with a place to for discussion (probably in the portal over the site). So it feels like Digg/Reddit, but the underlying curation focuses the conversation (and cuts down on the content gaming that killed Digg). We’ll take responsibility for fashioning the curatorial lens that filters all this. (We used to filter by domains, now we filter by people…Twitter taught us this.) 
Exhausted by Social
So, as I pointed out in a recent post, I’m pretty convinced that the initial emotions that drove the growth of the social web are different than the emotions that have sustained it. In the beginning, we found friends we hadn’t heard from in years. And, much like our first experiences on the web, these were very human moments. There was a sense of this great big world that we were connecting to (again.) As social scaled, things changed. Because our search results, our news feeds, our preferences drove everything, we ended up with too much of the same thing.
 
It’s new/old saw that Facebook is a where you follow your actual friends, and Twitter is the where you follow the people you hope to be friends with. This becomes really important when you deal with curation. Beyond daily news, we read the content from people we aspire to be. So it’s only right that Twitter (or some similar graph) is a better curator. But Twitter as a service is the river Nile – too huge to digest, too fast to keep up.
 
Participatory Curation
So, we’re at this interesting point where we haven’t (collectively) figured out a way to get great content without it being a big stream of the obvious. If you devour news online right now, there is no killer app; we all have a series of hacks. (Which is partially why so many people are upset about Google Reader dying; it was platform to hack together your own graph of curators.) We’re looking for something that gets us to interesting, surprising content, and probably something beyond the bigger news portals. In many ways the mechanism that killed the front page of physical newspapers is killing the standard news portals of the web. In a phrase; if news is important it will find me.
 
To get there, I think we need each other. I don’t think we’ll find interesting news through algorithms, I think we’ll have to help each other find the zeitgeist using our human sensibilities. We have a sixth-sense for online culture, and we know the moment a meme is over-played. We also know know that magic moment when the random becomes brilliant. So I think the two mechanics that point us toward the next phase are (simply) curation and voting. Not a flooring statement, but follow me.
 
Quibb and where (I hope) it’s heading.
So Quibb provoked all this reflection out of a very simple mechanism. (If you use Path, you’ll recognize it.) As it lists articles, it indicates who in your graph has seen the article, and that looks like this:
  Quibb
 
So, here you see an listing where someone has posted an article of interest, and below the article you’ll see who’s read the article, (in and outside my graph.) Much like a true network diagram, I only need to know one person in that group for it to appear in my feed; that person is my gateway to this content.
 
This is beginning to hint at what I’m referring to as participatory curation. Quibb shows content from people I care about, but (today) it’s only tracking their clickstream. I think if Quibb evolved this curation to ask people to flag/recommend content, it gets pretty powerful. Then I’m getting the equivalent of LongReads from my aspirational crowd. I care about these people, and they are telling me the content they care about. From this you’ll create a very compelling content stream. In that moment, we’ve individually mined the corners of the web and collectively shared the best pieces with each other. And what binds us in this new moment will be the same emotion that has bound us before technology, our shared interests. 
 
Good luck Quibb.

27
Mar 13

Design for Anonymity, Participation, & Surprise

My colleague Andrew just pointed me toward a new app named Rando (Which he found through this Fast Company article.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote about data being Designed to Disappear, (years before SnapChat, people.) So I’m going to try and start to note the (rare) moments that technology shows a glint of a new direction. For me this is less about keeping score, and more about paying attention. So…with that, here’s why I’m sort of inspired by this seemingly insignificant app. 

The idea behind the app is quite simple; you send a photo, and you’ll receive a random photo in return. No friend lists, no ratings, no social graph, no klout points; it’s incredibly simple. BUT there are a couple of really powerfully design principles behind the app that I have a feeling we’ll see more of (even if Rando only has a brief moment in the spotlight.)

Design for Participation
Quite simply, Rando holds to a quid pro quo interaction. You will not experience the app unless you provide a photo of your own. This pulls the user into the experience; gawking is not allowed. Demanding user engagement is hard, but if the ‘reward’ is right you change the paradigm.

Design for Surprise
This app isn’t going for delight, it’s swinging for full-on surprise. We’re quickly becoming so jaded as a connected culture…we’re forgetting how amazing our lives can be because of technology, (which is sad, really…television boyed our parent’s generation for decades). The fact that this app is stepping up to serve up the randomness of humanity is sort of commendable. It’s like getting a message in a bottle and trying to decode what’s going on in the sender’s mind. (I’m sure this will devolve into full-on Chat Roullet foulness before this is all over, it is the Internet after all.)

Design for Anonymity
As I mentioned, there is no social graph. There isn’t a username. This app could care less who you are, it only wants you to participate. (This isn’t a new idea…but it’s really on my mind lately.) One of my big take aways from SxSW this year was how selfish social media has made the web. We’re editing and preening, always making sure we have the most enviable Instagram’d existence. The superficial acknowledgment of our online social circles has us trapped like rats in a skinner box.  This app has a different point of view. It doesn’t need to be your portal of everything, it just needs to be 5 seconds of fun. 

Rando is an excellent example of a strong, simple design point of view. It’s also a great example of what we owe each other as we collectively wade deeper into technology. If technology isn’t underlining the human experience, it’s failing us. (Which is our fault, but that’s another rant.) Not everything has to be a life solving app, sometimes a little hit of dopamine is a enough. 

(BTW, my prediction is that Facebook will add some sort of random content feature in the next 6 months…their hyper-focused content feeds are choking the life out of the service, the pendulum will have to swing.
 

 


20
Mar 13

Serendipity, so what?

(Note: This is last piece of a larger exploration I’ve been working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

So, I think this will be the last post about serendipity (for a bit anyway.) I looked, and I’ve written more on Serendipity in this blog over the last few weeks than I wrote most of last year. It’s been fun to write and explore ideas again. I hope/plan to keep this cadence up. Exploring ideas through writing is good for me; I’m too easily distracted otherwise. But enough about that. 

So after reading and writing about serendipity for the better part of 5 months (obviously a lot more reading than writing), I was left to wonder where it’s taken me.  Serendipity is this ethereal concept, and you can’t really plan or program for it. You can position and prepare for things, but there’s no assurance. I was wondering about all this a few nights ago. At the outset, I was excited about this magical nature of luck, but now that I know much, much more what changes? Sure it’s good dinner conversation, but what could anyone take from this? 

I think I’ve decided that serendipity is probably more about the journey than the spoils it might reward. Adopting a lot of the practices to move you closer to serendipity probably leads you to a more interesting, fulfilling, waking life. If we all found inspiration at the edges of our network, or worked toward a beginners mind, or built our world our passions, or were generous with everything we had to offer we would shake off a lot of the cynicism and weariness we earn with age and experience. And after prying these barnacles off our mental bow, we might see new waters.

I’ve also noticed that the principles behind serendipity have huge parallels with the processes of creativity and design; learning through making, finding inspiration anywhere, provoking thought through action. In this same way, serendipity is more of a means than an end. Because of your creative process you see and create new things. You won’t know where you’ll end up, but the process helps your mind move through things. (I’m left wondering is you can sharpen and tune your process for serendipity in the same way you your creative process.)

As a process, serendipity lays out some principles for a life best lived. It’s not a quid pro quo existence. It requires a faith in something bigger; faith in people, faith in the greater human potential. This for me is probably the big idea. If serendipity only occurs in 1% of our lives, its principles set us up brilliantly to experience the other 99%. The idea invites you to be more open, more curious, more engaged, and more generous. And we can’t encounter serendipity alone, we need each other to stir our thoughts. We have to trigger each other’s soft machines.

So, if we’re pursuing serendipity, we’re better together. This more networked and messy process flies in the face of some of the capitalistic and objectivist tenants infused in our culture. I’m sort of excited to see serendipity popping up so much in the zeitgeist. Hopefully we’re moving beyond the selfish idea of luck and the collective concept of potential.


14
Mar 13

Breaking the Back of the Open Web

I was surprised and disappointed to see that Google announced it would sunset Google Reader by July of this year. I understand why; people aren’t using Reader like they used to, and the product is competitive with Google+. Still Google used RSS almost to its end, choking the life out of the protocol and tossing it aside. There a lesson here about how capitalism can run contrary to the online world we need to create. 

First, some history. So in the early part of the aughts/2000’s, we all saw the rise of RSS as more and more people started to blog. RSS gave us a light-weight means to quickly check a large number of sites to see if new content was available. It was quite successful and spawned a handful of RSS sites (Bloglines, etc) and desktop apps (NetNewsWire, etc). Through these feeder sites (and the elegance of RSS), we could have any web content we wanted pushed to us. We did our own curation, we did our own filtering, and we were able to truly get to the edges of the web – it was awesome. 

Soon Google joined the feeder fray launching Google Reader. As time passed, it became the dominant player in the game. Google created a compelling experience that seamlessly integrated with all their other apps. It had an open API so partners could build on top of the app; it was all very Googley. With this evolution, most websites couldn’t compete anymore, and desktop apps moved to integrate with Google Reader. Fast forwarding to today, Google Reader has a chokehold on most simple syndication feeds. Other content aggregators have resorted to some sort of smart filtering & curating.

Now, as Google sunsets Reader, most content aggregation will be done through curated feeds (G+ included). Until someone develops an alternative (they surely will), most people will be using filtered feed and these filtered feeds hide the new edges of the web. This pisses me off. I feel like we’re all slipping deeper into our own echo chambers. Google obliterated RSS, didn’t improve it, and left it for dead. It build Reader on the back of the open web, and now it’s discarding it to move to a more private, locked-down platform. 

This is not how we create a better online world for each other.

I’m sure that developers will breathe new life into simple syndication fast. (The underlying protocol isn’t complicated, and (ironically) open-source tools will help them build it.) Marco Arment already argued that this is the single best thing to happen to RSS. Digg also announced today that they would build a reader. So all is not lost. 

Still, this is a good lesson. RSS was an open protocol that could be resurrected after weathering the storms of creative destruction. Had RSS been patented by Google, we would have been left with a web worse off. It makes me think twice about sites that I use where I have no recourse or option to eject, (Facebook and Tumblr to name a few.) Funny thing is, I would have paid to use Google Reader, and I’ll probably pay to use some service as Reader goes away. 

If we only build a web that is meant to lock users in, serving ads to make money, we’re destroying the true potential of the web.


08
Mar 13

Big Enough for Luck

(Note: This is a piece is part of a larger exploration I’m working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

It occurs to me that it’s really hard for serendipity to strike when you’re tackling small or easy problems. In fact, serendipity seems to show up when people struggle with really large, almost unsolvable problems; challenges so big that you start to look in new and novel places for new inspiration.

In thew spirit of solving really big problems and inviting serendipity, Google has created Google X. It a lab where they create programs known as “moonshots”, (I think in reference to Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon.) These moonshots tackle problems that are so difficult they will take years to accomplish. This is how a search company can manage to launch a self-driving car, or consumer heads-up displays. They’re putting some of the brightest minds in the world on these problems, but they’re also slaving away for long periods. It’s the duration that’s interesting to me….the longer slog seems to invite more moments of serendipity

I think to really engage the creative, pattern-spotting portions of our brains we have to solve problems that are big enough to invite some struggle. Framing a problem where you’ll probably fail, where you have enough passion to start again, and where there is no correct answer from the outset, these are the challenges that invite serendipity. 


26
Feb 13

Systems Vertigo

I think science fiction has made me a better designer. (Well, I should say I hope science fiction is making me a better designer.) I used to pass on science fiction because I had this sort of arrogant view that with so many real people and real stories to be read, fantasy just didn’t seem that interesting. Yah, so, that was stupid. About a year ago, I tripped into some old space fiction and I was really inspired by the depth of thought that had gone into creating these new worlds.

In all this, I realized that most of the classic science fiction writers were actually futurists who were trying to figure out how the world might work one day. I sort of reasoned that if I was trying to figure out how the world might work one day (albeit, in a shorter timeframe, with fewer rocket ships). I probably could learn a thing or two from them.

This all brings me to one of my current obsessions; space elevators. I happened upon a talk by Matt Jones from Berg about around 18 months ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. (You should definitely watch the talk.)

Jones frames his whole talk around the idea of systems & vertigo. He makes a really good point that because our worlds have become so complex, sometimes instead of evolving the systems we get caught up gawking at how complex and interrelated things can be.

He quotes his partner Matt Webb and shares this story about a space elevator, a futuristic construct that carries people between earth and space. The system is held aloft by the earth’s geo stationary orbit. Jones goes on to describe the scale of the elevator like this…

If you’re standing close enough to see it, you can’t see the other end. Yet if you’re standing far enough away to see the see the both ends of the space elevator, it’s going to be completely invisible; it’s going to be too thin to see. And that’s kind of where we are; we’re in it and yet we can’t see it.

I think about this a lot. It’s really helpful when working through business, system, and cultural problems. How do you move between understanding the system and designing the pieces that will evolve the system. It’s easy to lose perspective, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the system’s complexity. 

There’s probably a lot of engineering metaphors that can guide us in systems design; the practice of looking for tensions, isolating subsystems, etc. But we’re still very early at taking a swing at this. It’s sexy, but I think most of that’s because we fall in love with complexity. (It’s sort of an ego stroke to tackle/understand really gnarly concepts.)

It’s very hard to redesign a system the same way you redesign a product or service. It’s also really hard to get a sizable system moving, (much less shut it off and switch to a new version) as you would with products/services. To have any impact at this scale, you have to work with existing forces within the system, and create interventions to nudge things. I guess in a way to affect the very large, you have to start very small.


24
Feb 13

The Double Bind

(Note: This is a piece is part of a larger exploration I’m working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

One of the more important points I happened upon during all this research is the idea of the double bind. It was the closing thought to one of the more enlightening pieces I’ve read on this topic.

A double bind is when someone feels the logical and emotional weight of being asked to choose between two contradictory ideas. And more than a simple a-or-b choice, the person feels an extra anxiety because either choice feels incorrect. For example, “choose a direction, but remain open to spontaneity”. The question fails you before you can even answer.

These sort of challenges are embedded in every part of understanding serendipity. It’s probably the root principle that makes this topic so easy to understand, but so hard to explain. It’s also what makes serendipity such a human experience. It’s sort of it’s own kind of faith. This passage really struck a chord with me:

In truth, many circumstances that seem irreconcilable are actually two-sided situations that we need to learn to embrace, not suffer through. Instead of treating them as opposing forces, planned serendipity teaches us to view these two sides as complementary.

That’s how designers think. They bring harmony to what seems to be opposing ideas. This inspired me because I’ve felt like the recent popularity of design has robbed it of some of it’s magic. Not the ‘dark arts’ kind of magic, more the mental judo described above. Seeing the parallels that link serendipity and design remind me that design is also a fundamentally human exercise. It also reminded me that good design still has a bit of magic to it. (And that made me smile.)


22
Feb 13

Mindful Mind Tricks

(Note: This is a piece is part of a larger exploration I’m working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

So far in for this series, I’ve tried to write a bit about how to foster serendipity through personal interactions. Then we looked at how networks can effect how we connect to new information and ideas. For this post I’m going to explore how our own mindset can encourage or eliminate the possibility of serendipity.

The Approach Pattern
Serendipity is an exercise in perception. From the thoughts in your mind, to the stimulation of your environment, you are digesting vast amount of data and your mind is constantly sorting things out. To paraphrase Glauco Ortolano, ‘Serendipity is about finding something you didn’t know you were looking for.’ In that spirit, *how* you solve your problem is as important as *which* problem that your solve.

As a designer, when we’re tackling a problem in the studio, it’s quite common for us to distinguish between design and analysis. A design mindset is generative; when you’re in that frame of mind you arrive at an answer by creating more and more options until you see a pattern that moves you forward. An analytic (or reductive) mindset assumes that you have all the options in front of you and you need to choose the best option to proceed. The former will leave you with tons of new ideas (some good, some not), the latter will deliver a thoughtful recommendation selecting the best option available. It’s a simplified scenario, but even thinking about this comparison illustrates that a significant difference in problem solving.

Taking this exercise and applying it to serendipity, we can see that we’re going to fare far better when we’re creating and recombining new ideas. To get to something new, we need to remain curious and explore what could be. (In some sense, our actual moment of serendipity is a little bit like that  pattern recognition moment from the previous paragraph…only we can’t plan when we’ll spot the pattern.) So, err’ing towards generative exercises and playing with ideas encourages your mind to be in the remix mode you need to stumble into that new juxtaposition. This is probably not surprising, but when you consider most businesses become successful by hiring really smart, really analytical problem solvers, you’ll see that adopting this frame of thought is easier said than done. 

Distracting Rewards
Beyond how we entertain ideas, our motivation to solve the problem really frames how we approach the challenge. I won’t spend much time here because the bookshelves and business rags have beat this topic to death and Dan Pink’s book Drive (here’s a great summation) probably make the quickest work of lots of research with similar findings. The bottom line is that when people think they are solving a problem for money or other extrinsic motivators, they have a tougher time coming up with creative answers. Challenges that offer rewards literally change the way people think about solving a problem. (yet we all work for some sort of money, so this is a hairy problem.)

Blind Faith
Since serendipity is act of faith, we’ll probably be best primed to experience it by starting with little leaps of faith in our own lives. This could be a small exercise, letting a stranger choose your restaurant and your dish for dinner, or boarding a city bus without knowing the destination. It could be a larger act, like moving to a city without knowing anyone and having no job. The point is, when you place yourself in these moments something will happen (you just have no idea what). And in this moment, it will be up to you to make the best of things. It’s an exercise in optimism and in finding value in the unexpected. In these cases, there is no better or worse choice; it’s all unexpected.

Through these exercises, we learn the value of being uncomfortable and the act of letting go. We’re forced to embrace moments when we just don’t have an answer, a right answer doesn’t exist. This is when we the spiritual side of serendipity starts to show up. There’s a confidence that things will work out, we’re just not sure how. You’ve created a small, safe space. Now move this same idea to a small exercise at work…rinse, repeat, scale.

The Dangers of Satisfaction
To hold a modern technology lens against this point of serendipity, you can probably guess what I’m wondering about. We live in a world where answers are always at our fingertips and we’re primed for immediate resolution. Our dopamine receptors are raging from all this immediate satisfaction, but our creative mind struggles because while we’re absorbing tons of knowledge, we’re tackling less and less really large problems, (that my perception anyway).

There’s that old chestnut about the mind being a wonderful servant and a terrible master, (it’s also my favorite DFW piece). To set yourself up for serendipity, you’re going to have to think about how you’re thinking. And my guess is that it’s going to be a little difficult at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. BTW, if you’re in the market for creativity exercises, Dan Pink’s A Whole new Mind is absolutely excellent. (And with that, I reach my limit of Dan Pink references in a single post.) 


20
Feb 13

Luck & the Network

(Note: This is a piece is part of a larger exploration I’m working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

It would be impossible to explore serendipity and not spend a lot of time thinking about networks. Even subjectively, we equate people’s connectedness to be an indicator of their good fortune. As you might guess, this is only part of the story. I’m learning that there are some surprising elements of how networks actually foster better conditions for serendipity, here’s a few.

Strong and Weak Ties
So, as is pretty well documented, networks are made up of strong and weak ties. To understand how these ties play with serendipity, it’s good to think about what sort of data flows they facilitate. Strong ties are the deeper relationships that exist in your life. It’s likely that you have similar values as your strong ties, and that they might connect you to new opportunities. As Reid Hastings recently blogged, “if you’re looking for opportunity, you’re really looking for people.”

When we’re searching for serendipity (which is different than opportunity), it turns out strong ties might not be as helpful as weak ties. Because of the redundancy, they become a bad place to look for new stimulus. For serendipity, the weak ties are much more valuable as they’re likely to contain a less considered point of view, or a divergent thought.

As a side note: Through this lens on networks, the design process and the view on serendipity are almost identical. If you want new ideas and inspiration, go to a place you would never expect; you’re looking for extreme examples of style. If you stay with familiar sources of inspiration, it’s going to be very hard to move past previous thought.

For fun, LinkedIn has a great app that visualizes your network based on the connections you’ve created in their service. It’s pretty interesting to see the major grouping and the proportions in your connections.

The Myth of the Maven
One of the more interesting stories I came across in my research was this story of a Yahoo researcher disproving Malcolm Gladwell’s maven concept set forth in his famous Tipping Point text. In 2008, Duncan Watts published a paper that proved that it wasn’t actually a small, powerful group of influencers in that encouraged massive change. The masses basically adopted something when they collectively wanted it.

While this is unfortunate for Gladwell, it leads us to this reminder that networks themselves have a preference, and they collectively filter and promote. In the infancy of the net, it was predicted that one day we would have a great collective discourse that would drive change. Sadly, this never happened, the networks propensity to act as a hive mind leaves us more polarized than curious. So given the limits of our own networks it becomes important to work across many desperate networks.

When we think about how networks filter for content, we’ll do better spending time where there’s a large amount of anonymity and the community acts as a meritocracy. With these principles, you’re dialing down the social influencers and dialing up the influencers based on their ideas. Dribbble, Pinterest, and Svpply are sort of designed to function this way; they allow people to navigate content based on weak ties and function largely on merit (rather than influence.) So these are digital examples that encourage serendipity. While Eric Schmitt is known for referring to Google as a “serendipity engine“, I can’t agree – there’s been so much work to refine and hone that search algorithm, you won’t walk away with anything except exactly what you were looking for.

Growth through Steroids
As we think about how technology is changing how we experience serendipity, one of the first places my mind goes is this explosive growth in our networks. It’s distorting the way we think about the people we know. Casual connections become recorded into permanence as technology helps us track everything.

We’ve blown way past Dunbar’s number of 150 (at least in our online friend metrics.) And thanks to Facebook, the six-degrees of separation is down to 4.74. Beyond the connections, these networks have become social spectacle in their own right as we track each other’s relationships and careers. And as tacit concepts like networks become more explicit, taking on different roles in our lives, we begin to use them for different purposes and distort some of the underlying principles. (See: Klout.com)

Final Thoughts
There’s a consistent “inversion theme” running through most of this research. The things I perceive to be the most important aren’t usually as impactful as what initially appear to be edge pieces. While the network is an important deciding factor of what you experience, what is convenient doesn’t really seem to yield what you hope (the network has an inbred opinion.)

To combat all this, you have to have the natural curiosity to find new inspiration that fuels this recombination that births serendipity. Also, to actively work with serendipity and force new collision means that you always have to work with the meta level; how/why you’re solving the problem you’re working on is as important as the actual problem you solve…