This story is old news if you followed my trail last month through Australia. Being up again in Strawberry, Arizona, and seeing flowers tll blooming in mid November (global warming is hot here) got me thinking again about the most amazing example of web serendipity that happened in Tasmania.

It’s one of those thing that just reinforces how big and small, flat and bumpy, the world truly is.

Unidentified Flower Object
Unidentified Flower Object flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

In my “Being There” presentation I spend a bit of it on trying to remind people how big the internet is. It sounds like an obvious statement– we all know it, right– but it is very similar to Geologic time- we can talk about things being “hundreds of millions of years old” or created “billions of years ago”, but on the human time scale, those spans of time are almost incomprehensible. The same is true (I believe) for the internet- a place ever expanding that no one can know, see it all, or draw generalizations across such a space.

So to illustrate, I pull some niche examples that demonstrate how large this space is. There was the time my daffodil photo got selected for use in a web site- and I found in the same two week span there were 6000 photos of daffodils posted to flickr. And my discovery of a flickr group dedicated to collecting photos of vegefitti– grafitti etched into trees and plants.

But here was the clincher. It was the first time this presentation was done, here for a group of educators gathered in Hobart Tasmania.

I talk about how I found that if I tag or caption flowers in flickr with “unknown” or “unidentified” invariably, someone in flickr finds it and leaves a comment with an identification. It is unasked for.

I have about 8 of these examples in my flickr collection, rigged to a search that brings them all up.

Why, I could have selected any one of these… so I chose one at random, the orange flower pictured above. I talked about how this person I did not know, Kirsty S, commented saying, “I suspect it is a ranunculus.”

Okay, flickr has like, what a few million users?

So what would the odds be, that the person who commented on my photo, almost 2 years ago, would be sitting in the audience of my presentation in Tasmania?

Well she was!- I have photo proof:

Most Incredible Example of Serendipity
Most Incredible Example of Serendipity flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I am still in absolute, utter, “screw the six degrees of separation- there are less” amazement that this happened.

It’s stuff like that that keeps me going.

PS: This was one of the primary early examples where I told this story as a video from a collection of Amazing Stories of Openness I started in 2010.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. It’s somewhat like me reading your blog for a number of years, watching one of your flickr presos, and seeing Gardner Campbell’s pic. You don’t know who the heck I am. Gardner? Wait, his band played at my wedding reception in June. Gardner, whose blog I know follow, and who will speak at my school soon. Hey, Alan knows Gardner. Yeah, pretty cool.

  2. Great human story. Truly amazing. It’s an interesting questions that since the concept of 6 degrees of separation was first put forward social networks have grown. Perhaps we have lowered the number.

    Anyways, I loved the story.


  3. Great story and reminds me of similar experience i’ve had posting images to flickr and having unknown users identify and comment. We take it for grant it but thinking about it makes me smile.

  4. And I thought I was in e-overload with a simple email I received today in response to an e-vite to a tree-trimming party in Grosse Pointe, MI next week:

    Greetings from Kathmandu,
    I will bring some fresh fruit.

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Your blog is great. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s like reading a book and later meeting one of the characters!

  7. Reason #300 why Flickr is better than Instagram: Flickr has a pool for Vegaffiti. Instagram has zero photos tagged #vegaffiti

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