Serendipity and the Web

Thoughtful essay by Bill Thompson. It was prompted by a column by William McKeen arguing that online reading precluded the serendipity that one experiences in reading offline newspapers.

Perhaps the best argument in favour of the argument that today’s richly interlinked web is as much a promoter of serendipity as the library, the bookstore or the radio is simply that the discussion is happening at all.

I came across Steven Johnson’s first post, a response to McKeen’s article, because I subscribe to the feed from Johnson’s blog through the Bloglines service. I can see whenever he writes something new, and because I like his style I generally read his stuff.

He linked to the original article so I read that, but there were also a range of comments already posted on Johnson’s website, so I followed them up too.

My serendipitous discovery of McKeen’s piece demonstrates clearly not only that he is wrong but that the potential for accidental discovery is greatly enhanced by the net and the web. The chance of me stumbling across the St Petersburg Times in my local library is rather small, since it doesn’t actually keep copies of it.

Once I came across the argument about serendipity I focused on it, searched specifically for people engaged in the debate, and ignored many interesting sidelines – like an old post from Jason Kottke about why Macs used to be rubbish – as a result….