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Media, Social & New Media

Discovery is the new Serendipity

Paper.li for Make it Open

Make it Open Daily

This morning BBC Breakfast carried a feature about the future of newspapers.

It’s a subject that, despite being out of the newspaper business for more than a decade, I’m still interested in. The peg on which the Beeb hung this mini debate was on the Rupert Murdoch’s Leveson assertion that newspapers would be dead within the next 10 years.

He’s not the first to think the dead tree press was a dinosaur about to be hit by the metaphorical meteor. A talk given by the Economist’s Andrew Rashbass  in Cambridge a couple of years back said much the same thing. Paper was being supplanted by digital. Journalism would survive just in a different form and on different platforms. A decent summary of the points made in the talk can be found in this interview in the Guardian.

Johnston Press seem to agree as it unveiled a new digital first strategy.

The contributors in the rather lightweight chat this morning tended to agree. The future is indeed digital, papers were basically circling the drain, etc.  You know the drill. But it was Ok because good quality journalism should/would remain.  Though strangely there was no in-depth discussion as to how this journalism would be paid for.

However, despite the obvious sadness of newspapers inevitably going the way of the Dodo, it seemed the only thing that anyone would actually miss was serendipity.

By serendipity, we mean the happy accident of finding something beneficial without deliberately seeking it out. In the case of newspapers this boiled down to encountering a story which you would otherwise have not have read, not have searched out yourself because at first glance the topic was not of interest to you.

With nods of head and expressions full of regret it was generally agreed that you just couldn’t replicate that experience on the web.

Really? No serendipity on the web?

In the words of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (one and two) “I don’t think so”

As evidence, let me submit exhibit A. Step forward Paper.li, the web-based ‘newspaper’ publisher which aggregates news content based on twitter, rss, Facebook and Google+ feeds.

Regular reader you may recall this a brief post on my fondness for paper.li. I subscribe to around a dozen of these, as well as creating three or four of my own based on the people I follow.

Ah! I hear you cry, but just two paragraphs ago you defined serendipity as the “…wonderful happenstance of encountering a story which you would otherwise have not have read, not have searched out yourself…”

True, but I think paper.li offers the same experience. Each of the ‘papers’ I subscribe to is full of video content, pictures, links to stories that I would not have searched for, would not have known about or read if it hadn’t been for this service.

I can think of other services which offers the same type of serendipitous experience. In Music there’s Hype Machine a music discovery engine, Twitter, of course, then there are services like Stumbleupon, and increasingly Quora which offer that same delight at discovering new, interesting things.

To suggest that serendipity cannot exist online or in the digital sphere is nonsense.

I think the web serves up serendipity everyday, we just call it discovery.



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