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Can Serendipity Be Planned?

Lack of communication among colleagues in the workplace is a widespread problem. Many companies struggle with the "silo syndrome" -- employees from different departments tend to keep to themselves, leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities, particularly those that would arise from chance encounters among people who don't, but should, know each other.

The author asserts that two parallel paradigm shifts are helping to change that. The first is a movement from desktop to mobile computing. The second is the move from individual to "social" software, here defined as programs that enable a group of people to accomplish common goals. Together, they say, the two trends have the potential to dramatically transform the ways in which companies conduct business.

Toward that end, the author and his colleagues have developed a new technology that could help facilitate greater workplace collaboration. The technology, known as "Serendipity," is a yet to be commercialized mobile-phone application, intended to extend (rather than supplant) existing enterprise-communication and knowledge-management systems by untethering them from the desktop so that they can be used in social situations where they might be most beneficial: near the water cooler, in the hallway, around the coffee machine.

Serendipity relies on Bluetooth, a low-power radiofrequency protocol designed primarily to enable wireless headsets or laptops to connect to mobile phones. A byproduct of that functionality, however, is that Bluetooth devices are aware of one another, which essentially turns them into short-range beacons, each with its own unique ID.

In this article, the author explains how Serendipity works and discusses a number of the potential business applications that could arise from its ability to study, track and, perhaps most importantly, predict the dynamics of a social network. He also discusses some of the privacy issues and necessary safeguards -- such as opt-in methodologies -- that would have to be associated with such applications.

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