Serendipity or Just Dumb Luck: Finding By Not Searching

Google is good. Google is great. I wish I kept better records of this, but I have vague recollections of finding some of my most favorite web discoveries at perhaps 3 links downstream of a search, or just by following a suggested link to one source and happen-stancing (random clicking) elsewhere.

So I use search most often while looking for specific things, but for discovery, it is really just the first layer of yielding primary sources. It is those secondary, tertiary, (quadriary?) exploration links that lead to the hidden gems.

So this morning, when I stumbled into something completely useful without it popping in a search result (and the fact I was not even looking for it initially), I am just compulsed to write it up at home before going into work, and will likely late for work.

So it started with an item that popped up in a few sites in my RSS reader. The April 2005 D-Lib article “Social Bookmarking Tools” by Hammond and others from the Nature Science group is an excellent read and a must bookmark-furl-spurl-delicious URL. Good beacuse it is thorough, intensely linked, illustrated, but also well written, and reads like it is written by someone who really is with it in terms of web technology:

Because, to paraphrase a pop music lyric from a certain rock and roll band of yesterday, “the Web is old, the Web is new, the Web is all, the Web is you”, it seems like we might have to face up to some of these stark realities [n1]. With the introduction of new social software applications such as blogs, wikis, newsfeeds, social networks, and bookmarking tools (the subject of this paper), the claim that Shelley Powers makes in a Burningbird blog entry [1] seems apposite: “This is the user’s web now, which means it’s my web and I can make the rules.” Reinvention is revolution – it brings us always back to beginnings.

We are here going to remind you of hyperlinks in all their glory, sell you on the idea of bookmarking hyperlinks, point you at other folks who are doing the same, and tell you why this is a good thing…

This paper reviews some current initiatives, as of early 2005, in providing public link management applications on the Web – utilities that are often referred to under the general moniker of ‘social bookmarking tools’. There are a couple of things going on here: 1) server-side software aimed specifically at managing links with, crucially, a strong, social networking flavour, and 2) an unabashedly open and unstructured approach to tagging, or user classification, of those links.

So the article was a find in itself (and has been properly furled, actually before I read the whole thing).

It was towards the middle of the article under “Building Communities” where the authors begin to share the different ways tags and links dig into sources they have compiled in Connotea. The very first item in the list (this morning when I found it, this will change, right?) was listed as:


where the tag line was enough to hook me:

Freetag – an Open Source Tagging / Folksonomy module for PHP/MySQL applications

Now I had back of my mind (way in the back, dusty seldom visited regions) been thinking that in a second generation version of our Maricopa Learning eXchange I could see a way to add tagging as a part of the MLX system (this is on the back burner until I can wrestle enough time to finish the first generation alpha of an open source MLX).

Note to self- it looks like Connotea is evolving nicely, must return for another cup of connotea

But holy XXXXXXX! Freetag looks like it may just be able to plug in!

Freetag is an easy tagging and folksonomy-enabled plugin for use with MySQL-PHP applications. It allows you to create tags on existing database schemas, and access and manage your tags through a robust API.

This might mean I can incorporate some tagging into the MLX without having to toll code myself.

What is exciting to me, besides the value of the find, was the joy of the find. I would have likely gotten to this site from a web search, unless I did something like a specific search (which does work well, by the way). I found it by click luck.

This is what I tried to convey as the closing message in my TCC 2005 presentation yesterday… with the overload of information that we all feel, while traveling the confusing road to the future, how will you travel? With a sense of:

or a wide eyed look of:

Finding by serendipity keeps me in the latter category.

PS Just the flickr search on “despair” brought a pile of serendipity-found images. See the lonliest hotdog or a dire situation. Follow the “your gone” set of images in order… Is there a mini meme of flickr storytelling? Hmmmm

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.