Expanding in all directions: Serendipity research

When I started my PhD in 2009, reading up on the literature related to serendipity in digital information environments was a relatively manageable task. Keeping up, however, was getting increasingly difficult just four years later when I finished my doctoral studies.

That growth in the literature became more evident when Elaine Toms and I recently dove back into it for our book, Researching Serendipity in Digital Information Environments, a Morgan and Claypool Synthesis Lecture.

Our aim was to write a book that would be useful to scholars, particularly junior scholars, interested in exploring serendipity in their research. We identified various patterns in the research to date including the drivers of serendipity research, methods, and approaches to the facilitation of serendipity. We wanted to detail what has been done to this point to illuminate existing frameworks and reveal potential gaps for future research.

What I found most fascinating as we sifted through the research were the many drivers for doing what we do as serendipity researchers.

  • One of the earliest drivers of serendipity research to emerge was the need to understand the transition from physical to digital modes of information behaviour. There is an impetus to both mitigate the potential loss of serendipity in this transition and realize its promise.
  • While serendipity research is driven by the desire to combat information overload, it is also driven by the need to burst filter bubbles; to do both simultaneously is a wicked challenge and there is still much to do.
  • Research has been driven by the need to improve user experience by facilitating serendipity in digital information environments as well as identify user strategies for increasing the potential for serendipity. While the emphasis is currently on the former, there is room for the latter to expand.
  • Finally, serendipity research is driven by the need to understand this fascinating phenomenon. The nascent area of serendipity research needs to continue to build on its theory and frameworks.

What drivers for serendipity research have yet to materialize? What new methods for studying serendipity will be developed? And, what approaches for support for serendipity will emerge? That’s the book I want to read 10 years from now.

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