Manufactured Serendipity

By Sam Ruby, March 13, 2002.

There are a number of people out there speculating as to why the blogging phenomenon is occurring.  Like most people, I feel that everyone else is missing the point, so I've set out to correct this in my own way.

Non reasons  #

Much of the current wave of introspection was kicked off by Dvorak's column.  He cited five reasons: Ego gratification, Antidepersonalization, Elimination of frustration, Societal need to share, and Wanna-be writers.  Like most webloggers, I see how some of these reasons may apply to other web loggers, but clearly none of them apply to me.;-)

Mark Kraft's response certainly feels good: community and communication.  But aren't there more effective ways to communicate than putting a "message in a bottle" (his analogy, not mine)?  And how exactly does limiting oneself to communication via messages in a bottle foster a community?

Dave Winer and Paul Boutin discuss civil disobedience and exhibitionism.  I've never had much of a desire to run a webcam - much to the relief of most people reading this, I imagine.  Truth be told, I also only share what I want to share anyway.  As far as civil disobedience goes - does anybody else find it ironic that some self described aging hippie who pretty much is the establishment in this corner of the weblogging world mentions this?;-)

Jon Udell has more cerebral explanations.  Transparency, for example.  Pop quiz: are you for or against transparency?  Seems like this is more a means than an end.  Besides, wouldn't it be great if everybody else were more transparent, a la the Prisoner's Dilemma?  Meanwhile, pass me the NDA...

Peter Drayton yesterday wrote a excellent article on flow and etiquette, identifying me simultaneously as a connector, link, and content maven.  Cool.  But all this still begs the question: what's in in for me?

Weblogs as Petri dishes  #

When Radio added support for RSS titles (presumably in response to Jon's impatience?), the reluctance shows through loud and clear for many, the discipline of coming up with a title for each post is work that would add little value.  Compare this to the excitement a day or so later when this lead to the development of the googleItMacro.  This development was most definitely not planned in advance, but happened due to a tight feedback loop with the users.  Was this an isolated case?  No.

Now look at WSDL FM.  The root cause for this development is that Dave's original webServicesTutorial left out a number of crucial details.  I dove in.  Simon noticed my work and built upon it.  I saw how all the pieces could be put together, described how the system could work, and Simon made it real. Then Ingo Rammer compares this unplanned development to the  planned alternatives.  No comparison, IMHO.

My WSDL BDG got an addition due to a similar series of events. Dave Winer asks for a WSDL for the ping service.  Ari Pernick finds himself unable to do so using only the information in part I of this document.  Simon makes a few suggestions, and I complete part II.  The result?  It works!

I've never met Dave.  I only met Simon after this all occurred.  I may never cross paths with Ari.  None of this was necessary for this ad hoc collaboration to form. In real time.  And effectively.

In fact, I developed this essay (the one you are reading) over a period of a few days.  There is no way I could have anticipated Peter Drayton's article or the googleIt macro when I started.  I merely was opportunistic when the possibility of the unknowing ad hoc collaboration presented itself.

Manufactured Serendipity  #

One day I note that I see snow outside the window.  Because of this, I have dinner with Miguel de Icaza.

Google notices that there is a high correlation between the content of my weblog and this conference.  So I decide to go.

Mark Pilgrim uses the term y'all.  Makes me curious about where he lives and where he is from.  It turns out I grew up 2.5 hours south east of there and now we live 10 or so miles apart.  He even suggests that we get together some time.  I'd like that.

Jon Udell labels this phenomenon, manufactured serendipitySerendipity is all about making fortunate discoveries by accident.  You can't automate accidental discoveries, but you can manufacture the conditions in which such events are more likely to occur.  Dick Hardt did this by picking the two of us, among others, for ActiveState's Technical Advisory Board.  A number of SOAPBuilders got together at IONA for pretty much the same reason.  Conferences are also a great place for doing this.

So to now are weblogs.  

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow  #

I started this essay making fun of the other reasons people have given, but there certainly is an element of truth in each.  As a web surfer, I frequent sites that change more often than static sites.  Particularly ones written by people with similar interests to mine, and are a both provocative and yet have some element of a balanced perspective (or at least a bias that can be clearly recognized and discounted).  The most effective way I have found to identify such sites is to set up my own weblog and watching who stops by.

The key ingredient in all of this is flow.  So like the early American settlers, the thing to do is to set up shop near a river and pick up stray interesting bits as they float by.  By spidering back with referrer logs, daypop, and google; eddies can form where the true serendipity generation occurs.

The Tipping Blog explores a state change that occurs when a idea takes on a life of its own.  At that point, the Petri dish gets transformed into a particle accelerator, and new ideas are created by smashing together previously unrelated ideas at a high velocity.  Many of the ideas created have a short half life.  Others are more enduring - this is where the WSDL FMs and GoogleIt macros are formed. 

Conclusion  #

So why do I blog?  Because it works.  It finds worthwhile things for me to read.  It helps me refine and focus my thoughts and be more productive too.  And most of all, creates the opportunity to interact with more interesting people.  That's what's in it for me.


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