The memorable phrase Controlled Serendipity, from the title of Nick Bilton’s 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’s pot of gold. She says, ‘I scour it all, hence the serendipity. It’s essentially “metacuration” — curating the backbone, but letting its tentacles move freely. That’s 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-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

4 thoughts on “The Creative Brain of Maria Popova

  1. Eric,

    Thank you so very much for the kind words. (And for using the powers of Google image search to dig up this rather unflattering but full of positive memories iPhone photo of moi, hehe.)

    You bring up an interesting point about the scarcity of verbiage describing non-Americans in positive terms – I never gave this much thought, but you’re completely right. Though I suspect in the era of the “global citizen,” we’ll begin to see less and less emphasis on nationality, both in share of mind and in linguistic terms.


  2. Maria – Yes, finding the picture took some digging – I don’t think it’s so bad – I’d be glad to use another one if you have one 😉

    >the scarcity of verbiage describing non-Americans in positive terms>
    Do you have any suggestions for a tag? As I mentioned, I’m thinking of talking more about this in an article. I first started noticing the quality of non-US Web work in pre-Google days when I was tracking lists of links, and I found that very often the most complete, imaginative lists were from non-US countries.

    “Controlled Serendipity” stays on my mind. Hope to do another article on that too …

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