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Saturday, September 14 • 4:46pm - 6:30pm
“The importance of social media in the work-related serendipitous digital environment”

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Social networks in which interactions with other people lead to new insights or discoveries have long been associated with serendipity (Fine & Deegan, 1996). Yahoo’s recent ban on employees working from home was presented in the press as a move to re-inject serendipity into the company by ensuring more informal interactions between colleagues (e.g., Lindsay, 2013). However, while face-to-face time may be important to maintain a serendipity ecosystem, people do perceive their interactions with other people in digital environments as opportunities for serendipity (Dantonio, Makri, & Blandford, 2012). 

A web-based survey of 286 academics, professionals, and graduate students was designed to explore relationships between work-related serendipity, environment, and individual differences. Participants were first asked to select a specific digital environment of their choice in which they find information, ideas, or resources that are useful to their work or academic studies (e.g., PubMed, work intranet, Twitter, Google Scholar). Participants then responded to questionnaires relating to their experience in that particular digital environment, how frequently they experience serendipity in that digital environment and in general, and several self-report questionnaires relating individual differences and their broader work environment. This poster focuses on the portion of the study that explored the relationships between serendipity and digital environments. 

Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook were selected by 69 (24.1%) of the participants – second only to databases (N=73, 25.5%). A MANOVA revealed a significant multivariate effect for digital environment (database, social media, website, search engine, or intranet). The frequency of serendipity was significantly affected by the type of digital environment, Wilk’s λ, F[44, 904.83) = 3.55, p<.001, partial =.14. The reported frequency of serendipity was highest in social media sites and post hoc analyses indicate that the perceived frequency of serendipity in social media (M=3.61, SD=.81) is significantly higher than in databases (M = 2.87, SD = .80), search engines (M = 3.16, SD = .80), or intranets (M = 2.62, SD = .63). 

Results suggest that there may be common features or functions that underlie digital environments and make some more conducive to serendipity than others. More specifically, this study found that digital environments that contain useful and interesting information, enable connections, and lead to the unexpected had a significant relationship to the perception of serendipity. These findings give credence to the belief that while we cannot make serendipity happen, it may be possible to design digital environments conducive to serendipity. Future research will explore what specific features, functions, and experiences within digital environments such as social media sites influence perceptions of serendipity. 

Dantonio, L, Makri, S., & Blandford, A. (2013). Coming across academic social media content serendipitously. Paper presented at ASIST 2012, Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from https://www.asis.org/asist2012/proceedings/ 

Fine, G. A., & Deegan, J. G. (1996). Three principles of serendip: Insight, chance, and discovery in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 9(4), 434-447. 

Lindsay, G. (2013, April 5). Engineering serendipity. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/opinion/sunday/engineering-serendipity.html 

avatar for Lori McCay-Peet

Lori McCay-Peet

PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University, Canada

Saturday September 14, 2013 4:46pm - 6:30pm
Rowe Atrium

Attendees (5)