Engineered serendipity is part of a broader movement around ‘discovery’ that encompasses diversity, novelty and serendipity (coming out of recommendation systems and information retrieval research). Search and discovery lie at opposite ends of the same spectrum. An analogy is shopping for a yellow summer dress within a price range from a set of possible brands - this is search with intent. Discovery is like window-shopping with an undefined intent and if something of interest or value appears then it will likely be actioned.
As people are increasingly able to find people based on interests — rather than interacting in the old manner with people with whom they happen to be in the same geographic proximity — people who depended on geographic proximity or family ties to provide social connectivity may indeed find themselves at a disadvantage if they are not able to develop their own networks.
There’s a category of Web sites and mobile apps that describe themselves as “social discovery” services, aiming to connect us with new people without the assumption that we may want to be in a serious relationship with them.
But the friending algorithm is a problem more difficult than Netflix’s famous recommendation engine. As Tseng put it: “The movie doesn’t have to like you back.”
Collectively we have spent just shy of a decade working to help people connect with the people they already know using the Internet. It is now feasible to help people make new connections. This is not a pure technology problem, it is much more about creating a place where people feel safe and comfortable making these new connections.