Apart from loving the word, I wanted to write about Serendipity as I sometimes wonder whether it is going to be a rare thing for coming generations. For those that are not sure the definition of Serendipity is basically about coming across something pleasant by accident. Now I started thinking about this from what I read online and updates etc and it struck me that unless you work hard at it, serendipity is not what it used to be.
I work in a business where we deliver exact ads to exact cookies which is another shot in the eye for Serendipity when compared with TV advertising that still trades on the fact you buy one audience but could pick up many other ‘free’ audiences. Online advertising is just one part of the equation though, it is also about my Twitter feed, Linkedin and so on.
If you think about it the World Wide Web is closing in on us everyday we use it. We have Google showing us Ads related to searches and sites we visit and then content that is determined by our own behaviours and our friends social behaviour. I have 500 people I follow that I have hand picked based on their subject matter expertise whether that is personal or professional or indeed they are just friends. By definition I am presented with content of the same genre, often lots of the same content over and over. Of course you can add random people but most people forget to do that. To help make your readership less varied Twitter then suggest people like you so you keep adding more of the same.
Facebook is of course again a hand picked bunch but for some reason I see the same people adding updates. I keep being told that this is based on my interaction with them, I know for sure that is not the case so there must be some other science at work, either way I want more variety and it is killing my Facebook experience and interest. On top of that I am being shown highly targeted Ads based on interest and friends. It all adds up to a pretty repetitive and unsurprising experience.
Linkedin are usually people from the same genre and updates cross over with Twitter, Ads are targeted and so again I am seeing the same stuff. If I go shopping on Amazon they are predicting my tastes and showing me content that they think I will want whether it is books, films or electricals. This leaves very little revelation in my experience. That extends into most shopping as targeting becomes more sophisticated where very personalised content will be shown just for me across many sites. Of course we are then flocking to sites like Zite that learns fast or asks what content you like until you end up with a painfully myopic view. To be honest the examples go on and on with iTunes and other music systems proposing other songs and albums, but always based on something that you already like.
Right now we are primarily talking about ads and people but when we get into search that becomes more and more tailored we may never see an alternative view. If Google learns that I am a conservative and look at that content, that is what I will see, I will never be given alternative content. Same for any belief or interest. The technology we use is driving our experience to be more and more focused on understanding the user and making sure what they see is relevant. That might be good for Ads but I feel like we need a serendipity button.
We need to mix this up, challenge ourselves and give ourselves an opportunity to see something new and exciting before we target ourself into the most narrcow cast existence with no little surprises around the corner. Let us all press the Serendipity button. Aleks Krotoski has allowed us to do this, the image for the blog above is her Serendipity engine which actually creates it through a physical representation. It takes some getting your head around but it is fascinating – click here for more.