Serendipity in action

Serendipity. In the simplest of words, it means a “happy accident” (Wikipedia).

Earlier this week, I was thinking about serendipity, spurred by a thoughtful blog post by Matthew Ingram on filters, and how some feel that the digital filters being developed by the likes of Google and Facebook are limiting our ability to serendipitously discover new sources of information, leading to an echo chamber.

Now, I don’t argue that the development of an echo chamber is a danger when we are left to autonomously construct our own networks, but I do think that by having a well developed network we actually create more opportunities for serendipitous moments that are much more relevant to us.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/clintlalonde/status/75776840031154176″]

Here’s a story.

About a week ago,  Rodd Lucier passed my name on to a M.Ed getting ready to hike up the thesis mountain. Rodd is familiar with my thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in PLN among educators, and knew that this student might be interested in doing similar research, so he made the connection. This morning I had a Skype call with this student & we discussed our mutual research interests.

Part of the conversation revolved around tweets, and the level of depth contained in 140 characters. It sounds so small. 140 characters. Yet within those 140 characters a lot can happen.

When I first started considering doing research on Twitter, I wanted to do a content analysis of tweets. But, as I played with the Twitter api and began trying to figure out ways of mining Twitter data against a backdrop where Twitter changed the rules each week on how and who can access their data, I dropped the idea. I didn’t want to have my thesis depend on data that I couldn’t be sure I could access. As a result, I decided to move into a more qualitative realm with my research. While I was somewhat disappointed at the time, in the end I am happy with the way I did my research and have ended up with something that, I think, is much more interesting than my original idea. However, there is still something I find so appealing about deconstructing a tweet because I think that so much depth can be packed away within that small package. The simple act of including a link to something else that is much more in depth truly belies the defined nature of a tweet.

So, back to the conversation, which included a bit of this type of discussion on the nature of depth represented in a single tweet. The conversation ends with me sharing my thesis research library and agreeing to keep in touch. I get off Skype, fire up Twitter and what is the first tweet I see?

[blackbirdpie url=”!/brlamb/statuses/76681863216889856″]

Seriously serendipitous. And an excellent read about how much context and depth you can pack into 140 characters.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


4 thoughts on “Serendipity in action

  1. The irony with making serendipity an operating principle is that, by definition, you cannot _guarantee_ it will happen. So people worry – why should I put this effort in when it may not happen? But, as I like to remind people, you CAN guarantee it won't happen – don't share, be closed, don't have a network and I GUARANTEE you won't see many serendipitous events like this. So the question becomes – what am I giving up by working in a way that enables serendipity. My calculations are that for me, when I simply "bake it in" to the way I am working, the benefits FAR outweigh the costs, which are almost nil. Aside from taking the chance that I might be wrong about something, that I may have to admit I learned something, changed my mind, don't have all the answers, that people might judge me for this. Because we all know – you got to be perfect all the time, right? </rant>

    1. You're so right. There is no guarantee that this little moments of connection will happen when you are both open and willing to invest the time and effort to create a learning network, but there is a 100% guarantee that it won't happen if you don't. Trying to convince people to take that little leap of faith (and I think there is more and more evidence around that it isn't just faith) can be a tough sell. But the first time you experience some seemingly-random-yet-completely-natural-given-the-conditions-you-have-set-up-for-yourself connection, you're hooked and immediately get it.

  2. As educators, we spend a fair bit of time attempting to measure things that might at the outset, seem to defy quantitative analysis. So, maybe it's natural that educators on Twitter would eventually wonder whether or not it was possible to prove or disprove the thesis that:

    "Not all tweets are created equal."

    Whether or not an analysis leads to a definitive conclusion, I'm content that simply asking the question tends to validate my own contention, that micro-blogging in particular, and social media in general, hold great promise for learners.

    1. Yeah, at this point I am feeling like you, and am content to let my own experiences speak for themselves with regards to using social media as a tool for my own personal learning. But I wonder how we move the conversation to the point where it is no longer about “the promise” social media holds for learning, but rather the realities? I suppose things like continuing to tell our own stories out here in the open about how these tools work for us is one way (he say, answering his own question :).

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