Twelve years ago, on a trip to San Francisco, two friends of mine passed by a one-hour photo shop and stopped to marvel at the photo printer in the window. The printer was spitting out freshly printed photos in plain view and that is how Rodney recognised his uncle in a series of photos, posing in front of famous San Francisco landmarks. Rodney did not know that his uncle was in San Francisco but after the discovery they managed to meet up. Small world.
What is the probability of somebody you know being in the same city as you at the same time? What is the Bayesian of finding out about it or actually meeting up?
The familiar anecdotes about the world being small are about to go out of fashion if a new fusion of social networks and the geographic web takes of.
Dopplr is a web based tool that allows you to publish your travel plans to people you trust. Log in, and the main page will show you who will be at any of the future destinations you are planning to travel to.
For years, Plazes has enabled you to find out who is close to your current position. In the new version launched this week, you can also input your future travel plans and see friends' future locations.
Whether boosting serendipity or just lending a helping hand with the logistics of a meeting, services like this would come in handy both for social purposes and business (of course, business is a social activity too).
The same way sharing a physical location ties people together, assisted serendipity makes sense in other dimensions as well. Adoption of social tools within organisations would, say, help a team in Finland find the people in China with an idea that solves a problem they are grappling with, and identify the influencer in Turkey who will sponsor the project to apply the idea. Without any of them ever having heard of the others before. Big companies like a smaller world too.