Curation seems to be a trending topic, so I’m doing research for an article or two on it. Little did I suspect that the popularity of the subject had reached the heights shown in the story below, that I discovered serendipitously in a Google search (scroll down to see it documented). Shaquille O’Neal’s first art show is, in fact, opening Feb 19 in New York, with 66 works selected by Shaq, including Ron Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man),” a 7-foot-tall sculpture of a naked, bald man (at left below). Credit for the “Big Curator” wording goes to the writer of the Yahoo article, JE Skeets.


How I happened upon this little gem: At the bottom of the Google search screen below for “Curation” there’s an entry for the Shaq story, with an attention-grabbing Shaq picture, under “News results for Curation” (How often is CURATION a subject for news ūüėČ ) … Sure looks like another case of controlled serendipity!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey


In a separate article, I describe a small experience of Controlled Serendipity, as I was doing research on Nick Bilton’s recent NYT article ABOUT Controlled Serendipity. Another bit of serendipity that had its source in my research on the Bilton/NYT article goes deeper, leading to insights about the concept of “controlled serendipity” and its relationship to storytelling.


In thinking about the article, I Googled Bilton, and found that one of his interests is storytelling, and that he’s working on a book that has the sub-title The New Business of Storytelling. And I noticed that Maria Popova, who’s cited by Bilton as the coiner of the term “controlled serendipity,” includes “storytelling” as an interest in her Twitter Bio, and that she’s made an imaginative short video called The Evolution of Storytelling.

… So, I think¬† — Maybe controlled serendipity and storytelling are connected? … Yes, I think — Isn’t that what I’m doing when I do Google (re)searching on the Web? — Following a story… gets me thinking about metaphors … Following a story is like “following a thread,” an old geek/newsgroup idea, apparently having origins in the technical computer science term thread of execution — “a fork of a computer program into two or more concurrently running tasks.” … Now, with the Web, there’s an almost infinite number of “concurrently running” stories, and the trick of Controlled Serendipity is to follow the right story, the one that’s going to Answer The Question.

The thread metaphor leads to others – Fabric, Network — and Salman Rushdie’s word-picture of an Ocean filled with Streams of Stories — Last year, when I wrote a series of articles on The Stream, based on Rushdie’s envisioning of the Web, I emphasized the idea of The Stream, because that metaphor was being talked about by several commentators as the new metaphor for The Web. But Rushdie’s vision goes beyond the stream — He talks about an Ocean of Streams

[The Ocean] was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … these were the Streams of Story …

This is a very compelling vision of how we experience the Web, I think — Trying to pick out the right story, the right strand, the right stream — And then to follow it as it weaves in and out with 1001 other streams. I think the term Controlled Serendipity catches our fancy because it resonates in our brains in the same way that Rushdie’s word picture does — a poetic description of how we experience the Web.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Nick Bilton’s recent NYT article ‚ÄėControlled Serendipity‚Äô Liberates the Web struck a responsive chord for me and for many other, as evidenced by its viral spread on Twitter – What especially struck me about the article and its spreading on Twitter was the virtual ignoring of the coiner of the catchy term ‚Äúcontrolled serendipity‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Maria Popova, who is certainly well-known on the Web for her blog Brain Pickings, and her Twittering (@brainpicker) — The article came out early in the day on Friday, Jan 22. Before I tweeted it several hours and many tweets later, remarkably, not a single tweet about it mentioned either Popova or @brainpicker. So I decided then that I would emphasize ‚ÄúPopova‚Äôs brain‚ÄĚ in my talk about the ideas in the article.

In thinking about a tweet and blog article title that would emphasize Popova’s contribution, I settled upon the word “creative.” Before I chose that, though, I did some thesaurus searching to find other possibilities. None seemed better than “creative,” but I did discover an intriguing word that’s new to me – Deviceful – Wow! What a great word! … Note the dictionary definition for Serendipity: “Making desirable discoveries by accident” …

Deviceful — A Middle English word notable for its use in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, not commonly used now … Surprising, in this age of devices, but a Google search shows little indication that the Ad-makers have discovered it, even those deviceful minds at Apple! (The top 10 hits in Googling deviceful are all, except one Photography site, either dictionary definitions or Middle English-related) … So, I think, such a striking word is worth building an article around — I think about using it in the title of an article I planned on Popova … but … even better: I realize what’s just a few days away, the Climax of the iPad Hype, the long-awaited Launch! In following this interesting story, unavoidably, I hear a lot about Steve Jobs, but I also learn about the quieter, but vital, role of designer Jonathan Ive, and I write an article on the two of them — Deviceful Minds.

… So … A nice little example of “Controlled” Serendipity? — “Serendipity with a purpose” or “Serendipity that turns into a story” … Having the knack of knowing when an interesting path is going to lead to something useful — In this example, following the path from creative … to … deviceful … led to writing an article.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The memorable phrase Controlled Serendipity, from the title of Nick Bilton‚Äôs recent much-discussed NY Times article, keeps going through my head. That phrase, as well as other catchy language, is attributed by Bilton to Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Surprisingly, Popava has not been mentioned much in the buzz, so I’m excerpting her striking language


Here’s Bilton quoting Popova (with my boldfacing of the Librarianesque, Meta-ish phrases that stick in my mind):
“Another purveyor of fine content is Maria Popova, who calls this curating ‘controlled serendipity,’ explaining that she filters interesting links to thousands of strangers out of her thirst for curiosity. Mrs. Popova uses a meticulously curated feed of Web sites and Twitter followers to find each day‚Äôs pot of gold. She says, ‘I scour it all, hence the serendipity. It‚Äôs essentially “metacuration” ‚ÄĒ curating the backbone, but letting its tentacles move freely. That‚Äôs the best formula for content discovery, I find.’ ”

Looking at Popova’s Twitter page and blog, more creativity jumps out (again, boldfacing some of my favorite words):
… From her Twitter Bio: “Interestingness curator & semi-secret geek obsessed with design, storytelling & TED” … And the byline for her blog: “Curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain.” (What a lot packed into that!)

Beyond America: The *Wide World* Web – Maria Popova is apparently a native of Bulgaria (although her Twitter page says she lives in LA) — Which brings up something I’ve noticed for many years — Often some of the most creative, innovative work on the Web comes from countries other than the US. I thought about this again recently, when researching an article on Apple honchos Steve Jobs (whose biological father is Syrian) and Jonathan Ive, who’s from Britain. Leaving aside the question of why this non-US strength in quality web-work happens, I think it’s worth noting that it does. I’ve been thinking about making a tag to describe this (which I can use for several articles already), and I’m thinking about what to call the tag. Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be a smooth, non-negative phrase for this (offshore, international, non-US don’t feel right). So I’m thinking of using the tag Wide World — Not strictly accurate, of course, since the US is part of the world, but I think it communicates the sense of the idea. I’m open to suggestions, via comment or email.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Nick Bilton’s title phrase — Controlled Serendipity — in the NY Times last week spread virally in the Twitterverse for several days. The phrase resonates for me, with hints of “Zen and the art of Web searching” — How to approach the whole idea of Web searching, cultivating an awareness of when it’s good to follow unexpected paths and when it’s a waste of time (the subject of another article maybe).

The point I want to make here is that Bilton’s article is a good read for librarians — Beyond the catchy title words, he also uses other “library-like” language. Marcus Banks, a librarian at the UCSF Medical Center Library, makes the same point on his blog

Bilton’s language in this post is very reminiscent of library talk: ¬†“filtering,” “curation,” even “serendipity” ¬†(call number systems are designed to encourage serendipity while browsing the shelves.) So there is definitely a role–a huge one, if still ill-defined–for librarians in taming and honing the Web. ¬† As this role becomes more clear, each of us should continue to make our deposits into what Bilton terms the digital “daisy chain.”

So, Librarians — Join the Discussion! If you use Twitter, now’s the time — The stream passes quickly…

A last point — Not enough credit seems to be going to Maria Popova, who’s cited by Bilton as having coined the “Controlled Serendipity” phrase, and who also uses many of the other “library talk” words cited by Banks. So, thank you, Maria — @brainpicker on Twitter — for the great language!

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

It’s been occurring to me that our old categories — books and magazines — are losing their meaning in the transition to eBooks and eMagazines. So I was interested to stumble last week on the serendipitous series of Twitter tweets below that nudged me to write this article …

Just as I was about to tweet this message …

ericrumsey: Difference Between “Web Pages” & “Magazines” is Getting Blurry View Tweet

What should appear in my Twitter stream but this …

doingitwrong: Worst thing about this piece: The assumption that in 2020 eReaders will be about the same as they are now. /via @PD_SmithView Tweet

And the day before, I had tweeted this …

ericrumsey: Prognosticating eBooks – “What Exactly will Define a Book at the End of 2010?” (LA Times: @paperhaus) – Tweet

The three articles linked in these tweets, on eMagazines, eReaders, and eBooks, have the common theme that the digital world is very much in flux, that old formats are likely to change in unpredictable ways. I think this is especially true in the case of picture-laden magazines –The experience of reading an article on the Web that combines text and pictures is pretty much the same, be it on a blog, news source, miscellaneous webpage, or part of a “magazine.” So I’d guess that “magazines” will fairly soon disappear as a category separate from other Web sources. The category of “books,” on the other hand, I think will take longer to lose its meaning – For now, the experience of reading a book is quite similar whether its in paper or online — The game-changer for the “book” category will be when eBooks become connected to each other so they all blend into the ocean of the Web.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I love serendipity — I happened to see these two pieces on the same day recently, and couldn’t help putting them together. Is there a meaning somewhere here? ….

Information on the Internet That Should Go Away, Roy Tennant

This is the kind of information I wish would disappear: old, outdated, in many cases downright misleading or incorrect. Now to only find the algorithm for determining these characteristics and nuking this dreck off the net! (boldface added here and below)

A case of great minds thinking alike? …

Google Announces Plan To Destroy All Information It Can’t Index, The Onion

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA‚ÄĒExecutives at Google, the rapidly growing online-search company that promises to “organize the world’s information,” announced Monday the latest step in their expansion effort: a far-reaching plan to destroy all the information it is unable to index. … “Our users want the world to be as simple, clean, and accessible as the Google home page itself,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a press conference held in their corporate offices. “Soon, it will be.”

Fun Kicker — My first idea for a title for this article was “… Trimming the Internet.” Then I thought differently, and googled for “weeding the Internet” to see what might turn up – Sure enough, one of a handful of retrievals with that phrase is a library handout from on The Library vs The Internet, sounding just like Roy: “No one‚Äôs weeding the Internet, and sites with seriously outdated information are still available.”

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey