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Tag: serendipity

New Gods of the Network: Propensity and Serendipity


Understanding distance on the Network is a complex thought experiment. While every location is one click away, you need to know the precise name of the place you’d like to go. We think of the universe of the Network as being vast, but the horizon is right front of you– and you can’t see beyond it.

This is why navigation tools are essential to traveling through this kind of space. Visibility beyond the current page is limited to the local hyperlinks. Traditionally, we’d look to Hermes, the god of travel and communication to guide us. 

In the era of SuperCrunching attention/gesture data, we calculate propensities and give you the answer or location you probably want. You probably want to go to the place most people like you want to go. It’s called homophily, birds of a feather, flocking together. This is worshiping the goddess Propensity.

But as Jon Udell notes, recommendation systems that send me further in the direction I’m already going doesn’t enlarge my understanding or my world. This is why we must also worship at the altar of the goddess Serendipity. We need to find a balance between the known and the unknown. Sometimes we talk about these divinities using the words signal and noise, but in that binary opposition we privilege the concept of signal.

As we’ve converged on all the business models that accentuate Propensity, we now need to turn to Serendipity. Perhaps we can start by thinking about John Cage and aleatoric music, Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies or the experimental poetry of Mallarme.


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