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Temporal aspects of info-serendipity

Les aspects temporels de l’info-serendipité
Los aspectos temporales de la info-serendipia
Yosef Solomon


Le temps a été exploré sous différents aspects et contextes multiples en sciences naturelles et exactes, ainsi qu’en sciences sociales et humaines. Néanmoins, l’étude du temps et des aspects temporels en rapport avec la sérendipité de l’information en est encore à ses débuts et est assez limitée. Cet article présente le thème de l’acquisition d’informations fortuites, c’est à dire la découverte fortuite ou inattendue d’informations précieuses ; pour ce faire, il souligne ses principales expressions temporelles grâce à un examen herméneutique de la littérature actuelle dans le domaine des sciences de l’information. L’article explore et fournit de nouveaux points de vue sous quatre aspects temporels fondamentaux de la sérendipité : (1) la continuité temporelle et la bi-directionnalité dans le procédé de la sérendipité de l’information; (2) des périodes de préoccupations de fond qui établissent les bases des découvertes fortuites d’informations ; (3) la classification semi-temporelle des individus qui font l’expérience de la découverte fortuite en information ; ainsi que (4) les aspects temporels des avantages découlant de tels épisodes de découverte fortuite. L’auteur appelle à effectuer une étude plus approfondie des aspects temporels impliqués et consécutifs à de telles découvertes opportunistes des informations importantes, au sein des disciplines de l’information et du temps.

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1When something is discovered accidentally, without prior expectation, and is valuable for its discoverer – it is called ‘serendipity’ (Merton, Barber, 2004). Prominent examples of serendipitous discoveries are usually from the fields of technology, science, or medicine, such as the discovery of penicillin, x-rays, or the unexpected physical effect of sildenafil citrate on men (Morton, [2007] 2011(. However, serendipity has a foothold and a major influence in many other disciplines as well, from the humanities and social sciences (Hazan, Hertzog, 2012; Martin, Quan-Haase, 2016; Namian, Grimard, 2013; Rivoal, Salazar, 2013), through organizational and business environments (Loosemore, 2014; Mendonça, Cunha, Clegg, 2008), to law (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016; Van Andel, Bourcier, 2001). That is also the case with information. Human information-seeking behavior is not restricted to a deliberate search for information in orderly mannered stages, it also includes the chance discovery of information in a dynamic and non-linear manner (Erdelez, 2005; Foster, Ellis, 2014; Foster, Urquhart, 2012; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015).

2The literature in the field of information science combines a handful of references, some direct and others indirect, to temporal related aspects of serendipity – although they were not the main focus of those studies, they are relevant for a profound and meaningful understanding of the info-serendipity phenomenon. However, the temporal-related discussion on serendipity in information studies is apparently not sufficiently known to time researchers in other disciplines, even though being attentive to researchers with different backgrounds, and considering works that have been done in other disciplines, could likely hold many benefits (Dubar, Rolle, 2008). Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide an overview of the key temporal aspects of serendipitous information acquisition by interpreting and synthesizing findings from pertinent studies on information encountering and serendipity, and to provide novel insights into four fundamental temporal aspects of info-serendipity that could be applicable in future research among both time and information scholars.

3We find this paper to be in line with rising interest in serendipity, as modern technological developments structure communities that are more explorative, open minded and curious (Auray, 2011), and serendipity is gaining a greater heuristic impact in current humanities and social sciences research and practice (e.g., Martin, Quan-Haase, 2016; Namian, Grimard, 2013; Rivoal, Salazar, 2013).

Scope of discussion

4For many centuries, time has been (and still is) an important topic of research and discussion. Time is a notion of contrasting features – it is abstract yet measurable, static yet in progress, absolute yet relative, with internal as well as external characteristics (Bardon, 2013), and people can grasp and sense expressions of time in an objective and subjective manner simultaneously (Ismael, [2011] 2013; Szeląg, 1997). The study of time includes diverse aspects and contexts in the natural and exact sciences, social sciences, humanities and other fields, as well as an abundance of scholarly attitudes and perceptions (Atmanspacher, Ruhnau, 2012; Weinert, 2013). Moreover, time and various related aspects, such as temporal structures, tools and temporal personalities, are being studied in everyday contexts (Wu, 2010). However, as far as we know, the discourse of time and temporality regarding serendipity is still in its early stages and quite limited, while many diverse and complex questions on different aspects of this issue arise and wait to be addressed and explored (Gallenga, Raveneau, 2016). The current paper will contribute to the development of this professional discourse on serendipity in information by shedding light upon the temporal aspects involved and consecutive to such opportunistic discoveries of valuable information.

5The paper is structured as follows: first, the origin of the term ‘serendipity’ is presented and the role of serendipity in information is reviewed. Then the paper describes various models of the info-serendipity process, and explores the four key temporal aspects that arise, interpreted and synthesized from the literature on serendipity in the information sciences: (1) temporal continuity and bi-directionality in the process of information serendipity; (2) time frames of background concerns that lie at the basis of chance information encounters; (3) the semi-temporal classification of individuals who experience serendipity in information; as well as (4) temporal aspects of the benefits arising from such serendipitous episodes. The discussion further suggests several original theoretical insights and applicable frameworks regarding these temporal aspects. The last section of this paper summarizes the discussion and offers possible directions for future research.


6This paper utilizes a hermeneutic approach to review pertinent literature on temporal aspects of information serendipity. A hermeneutic literature review is less formalistic in process and more flexible in the analytical approach, compared to a systematic review (Smythe, Spence, 2012), and so does not have to start by identifying all potentially relevant texts (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010; Smythe, Spence, 2012). In fact, the hermeneutic review involves a reflexive and non-linear engagement with selected relevant literature that sets the reviewer thinking (Reed, Smythe, Hocking, 2013). As the early comprehension of the issue studied is refined and extended through additional iterations and encirclement of the discovery of further relevant works, this successfully leads to improved and deeper understanding (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010, 2014). Literature other than on the direct subject, may also be of value if it is capable of ‘extending one’s horizons’ or stimulating fresh thinking on the subject (Smythe, Spence, 2012).

7The hermeneutic framework points to connect, not to perfect. Therefore, for the purpose of this study, texts were included and excluded based on which “particular text calls the reviewer because it resonates, gives vision or adds to understanding” (Reed, Smythe, Hocking, 2013, p. 254). Some deviated literature was also considered, since pertinent ideas emerged through analysis and interpretation of those texts. The concept of inclining toward particular texts is compatible with the hermeneutic methodology (Smythe, Spence, 2012), and the reviewers connection to such texts may enable them “to see the potential insights that lie within… and [en]courage to make the leap into the space of thinking” (Smythe, Spence, 2012, p. 17). By using the hermeneutic review, we aimed to make the temporal aspects of information serendipity more visible, trigger thinking in meaningful ways on, and provide a better understanding of, this issue of interest (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2014; Crowther, Smythe, Spence, 2015; Smythe, Spence, 2012), with some possibly new insights.

8The search for literature was extensive and involved both electronic and printed materials, in a spontaneous and gradual process (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010, 2014). The starting point for the review was the familiar works of several scholars on the subject of encountering information and serendipity (e.g., Erdelez, 1999; Makri, Blandford, 2012), known to be relevant (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010), that have been re-read with a temporal-oriented attunement (see: Smythe, Spence, 2012). From there – through a keyword search on numerous electronic databases, manual in-print and on-screen book browsing, inspection of suggested references, and citations tracking (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010), as well as a few chance discoveries of relevant works – we were intrigued and inclined towards some sources, and moved back and forth between “the understanding of a part (an individual piece of literature) and the understanding of a whole (a body of literature)” and vice versa (Boell, Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2014, p. 285). This process continued until a point of saturation was reached, as additional texts made only a marginal contribution to further understanding of the explored temporal aspects.


The role of serendipity in information

9Serendipity is a neologism. The term ‘serendipity’ is attributed to the British aristocrat, Sir Horace Walpole, who in a letter written to one of his noble friends in the year 1754 referred to a Persian fairytale about three princes of Serendip, and mentioned that “as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? …you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description” (Merton, Barber, 2004, p. 1-2).

10Almost forty years have passed since Wilson (1977) asserted that “information is in part acquired because it is deliberately sought... It is also found where it is not specifically sought, as an accidental concomitant of routine activities with other purposes or as pure accident...” (p. 36-37). Yet, a single unified and generally accepted definition of serendipity in the context of information does not exist, and indeed serendipity has been explained in the information science literature in several different ways (e.g., Agarwal, 2015; Björneborn, 2008, table 2; Erdelez, 2005, p. 179-180; Makri, Blandford, 2012, p. 684). Nevertheless, the combination of the two definitions that follow may adequately elucidate the essence of the subject: “Serendipity in the context of information-seeking and retrieval involves coming across information that is both useful and unexpected – either when looking for information on a different topic, when looking for information with no particular aim or when not looking for information at all” (Makri, 2014, n.p); namely, this is a case that combines “1) the findings of unexpected information (relevant to the goal or not) while engaged in any information activity. 2) the making of an intellectual leap of understanding with that information to arrive at an insight” (André, Schraefel, Teevan, Dumais, 2009, p. 306(. Thus, chance, information, and an information recipient are the three necessary contributors, and unexpectedness, sagacity and valuable outcome are the three essential elements, for the info-serendipitous experience to take place (cf. Bogers, Björneborn, 2013; Makri, Blandford, 2012).

The info-serendipity process

11Serendipity in information is a complex and difficult to seize phenomenon (André et al., 2009; Erdelez, 2004; Foster, Ellis, 2014; Race, 2012) and usually becomes obvious only after it occurs in retrospective sense-making (McBirnie, Urquhart, 2011; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015). Information science literature has presented a number of models that try to construct and explain the serendipity phenomenon in different contexts.

12Erdelez (1999; 2004; 2005) developed the Information Encountering (IE) model that constitutes a specific case of serendipity in which an opportunistic discovery of valuable information occurs in a task-oriented context (Million, O’Hare, Lowrance, Erdelez, 2013). The IE model includes five stages: unexpectedly noticing information that is deemed to be relevant to a background concern, interrupting the information seeking activity in which the individual was engaged, examining the different aspects of the encountered information, capturing some or all of the information, and returning to the initial information seeking activity that had been stopped. Jiang, Liu, and Chi (2015) modeled an online information encountering three-fold process that includes preliminary activities such as searching or browsing, the main steps of noticing a stimulus, analyzing the encountered content and acquiring useful or interesting information, in addition to post activities of information saving, using and sharing. Based on Cunha’s (2005) model, McCay-Peet and Toms (2010) suggested the model of Bisociation, and lately (McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015) also the Process of a Serendipitous Experience model, which starts with a distinct stimulus noticeable by the individual, that creates a connection between the trigger and the individual’s prior knowledge and experiences, after which the individual inspects the information and its context and obtains a valuable outcome; the unexpectedness or chance element may be evident in one or more of the stages of the serendipitous experience, while the individual’s awareness and comprehension of the entire process is what will determine if it will be considered serendipitous. Makri and Blandford (2012) also established a process model of serendipity that starts with a mental connection sparked by unexpected circumstances and insight; the individual then makes projections on the potential value of the outcome and takes actions to exploit the connection that consequently leads to a valuable outcome. The process may end at this stage and still be considered serendipitous to some extent, but to fully utilize the event and its benefits – an iterative phase of reflecting over previous elements viz. the involvement of unexpectedness of circumstances and insight and on the outcome’s value occurs (Makri, Blandford, 2012). Besides these models, several additional progressive descriptions of serendipity have also been presented (see: Rubin, Burkell, Quan-Haase, 2011; Sun, Sharples, Makri, 2011).

Temporal continuity and bi-directionality in the info-serendipity process

13What characterizes practically all these models is the explanation of the serendipitous episode as a sequential development in temporal order, not necessarily as an isolated event. Except for the initial phase, within which a temporal coincidence of information and awareness occurs by chance (Erdelez, 1999, 2005; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2010, 2015; Rubin, Burkell, Quan-Haase, 2010; Rubin et al., 2011; Sun et al., 2011) – the process of serendipity combines a number of additional elements, e.g. connection and valuable outcome, that may occur chronologically at different points in time with temporal interludes between the occurrences (Erdelez, 1999, 2005; Jiang et al., 2015; Makri, Blandford, 2012; McCay-Peet, Toms 2010, 2015), that can have either micro- as well as macro-duration (Kukka, Goncalves, Samodelkin, Ojala, 2015; Makri & Blandford, 2011; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015).

14For instance, some have claimed that even a quick glimpse at a piece of interesting information (De Bruijn, Spence, 2008; Kukka et al., 2015), namely an occurrence that “merely occupies a transitory moment in time” (Jiang et al., 2015, p. 1139), can promptly trigger awareness and lead to the potential solution of a certain concern. Others (André et al., 2009; McCay-Peet, Toms 2010, 2015; Robinson, 2014) have pointed out that a time gap may exist between the notice of the trigger and the subsequent formation of the bisociation and connection; labelled a mental incubation phase (Cunha, 2005; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2010; Mendonça et al., 2008) taking place before a serendipitous connection occurs, because “sometimes the trigger is seen too soon” (McCay-Peet, Toms, 2010, p. 381) or “the trigger sometimes needs time to percolate or bubble into the individual’s mind” (McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015, p. 1469). Similarly, a time lag may also exist in a later phase, before labelling the episode as serendipitous; that is, between the creation of the bisociation and the recognition of the potential or actual value of the information discovered (Makri & Blandford, 2011, 2012; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015; see also: Sun et al., 2011, for the difference between short-term impact and longer-term impact). A third temporal interval may occur after realizing the subjective value, and then the individual may adjust the discovered information for use in an immediate or a deferred manner (Pontis, Blandford, Greifeneder, Attalla, Neal, 2015; Solomon, Bronstein, 2016). Using a metaphor from the world of music, it can be said that the noticing, bisociation, and value recognition factors in the process of info-serendipity, as well as the use of the discovered information, may occur in a continuous legato or in a disjointed staccato structure. Although each model may highlight slightly different elements of the process, it is clear across all models that the serendipitous process maintains B-type relations (Zimmerman, 2013), in which some elements are being acknowledged earlier (or later) than, or simultaneously with, other elements in the serendipitous episode.

15The serendipitous episode also combines different time directions, in a temporal duality. That is to say, while the process of serendipity is mainly prospective and its elements exist and are realized along the time stream (Erdelez, 2005; Jiang et al., 2015; Makri, Blandford, 2012; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2010, 2015) – the subjective episteme of the information encounter as serendipitous occurs ex-post factum and in a retrospective manner (Makri, Blandford, 2012; McBirnie, Urquhart, 2011; McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015), as an integration of the process and its elements into a larger perceptual unit (Szeląg, 1997). The process of serendipity may also involve an iterative phase of returning to certain earlier stages, in a limited cyclical temporal course (Makri, Blandford, 2012). Temporal bi-directionality is the case in another matter as well. Besides the chance factor and the aspect of unexpectedness, the info-serendipitous episode combines as an inherent and basic ingredient also two qualities of the 'mind'. The elementary one of them is sagacity (Merton, Barber, 2004) that may lead, in an advancing temporal sequence, to formation of subjective insights by the individual (Bogers, Björneborn, 2013; Dantonio, Makri, Blandford, 2012; Makri, Blandford, 2012; Ryder, Nutefall, 2016); yet, in order to draw such subjective insights, the individual who comes across the information must initially connect the encountered information and their personal knowledge, memories, or experiences (De Bruijn et al., 2008; d’Iribarne, 2013; Solomon, Bronstein, 2016; Workman, Fiszman, Rindflesch, Nahl, 2014), in a backward temporal trajectory towards the individual`s resources of the preceding period. Furthermore, the formation of such personal bisociation and connection based on the individual’s prior knowledge, memories, or experiences, may involve an internal bi-directional course of “go[ing] back and forth between the traditionally separated periods of data gathering and analysis” (Rivoal, Salazar, 2013, p. 180).

Time frames of background concerns in the info-serendipity process

16The serendipitous episodes in information may have a number of perceived time frames that define the context which they benefit. The literature pointed out that most of the concerns to which the encountered information relates are the object of the present time, “which means that users encountered information from their to-do lists” (Erdelez, 1999; Yadamsuren, Erdelez, 2010, p. 7), and their ‘top of mind’ needs at the moment of discovering the information (Rubin et al., 2011). However, concerns from the past – “information related to problems they experienced sometime in the past” (Erdelez, 1996, p. 104; Erdelez, 1999), as well as future issues – concerns that the “respondent planned to attend to in the near future” (Erdelez, 1996, p. 104; Erdelez, 1999; Workman et al., 2014; Yadamsuren, Erdelez, 2010), are also pertinent. In a similar and concurrent manner, Solomon and Bronstein (2016) found that unexpected encounters with valuable legal information by Israeli family law attorneys – namely, in their professional sphere – referred to background concerns within the same three time frames: past – the information encounter refers to a closed legal case which the attorney had previously handled , present – it refers to an open legal case currently under way , and future – it refers to a potential legal case the attorney is considering taking on. Their top notice priority appeared to be of present and prospective time frames, i.e. open and potential cases which are their active sources of income (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016).

17Time in this aspect is a key to defining the concerns that stand in the background of such unexpected and valuable encounters of information, and to distinguish between them. It is quite possible that the subjective temporal-locations of contents and experience of succession (cf. Arstila, 2016) in the person’s private or professional life, along with their mental state and temporal integration of the self (Fuchs, 2007), may affect the definition, and mere perception, of such temporal frames.

Semi-temporal classification of the individuals experiencing info-serendipity

18Individuals who incidentally and unexpectedly encounter information are commonly categorized into four groups (Erdelez, 1999): non-encounterer, occasional encounterer, encounterer, and super-encounterer. These categorizations are based upon a relational semi-temporal criterion (Bardon, 2013), which is used to a typological end and weighs the frequency of information encountering experiences of the individual and their attitude toward them (Erdelez, 1999). Specifically, the non-encounterer is a person who relates to an unexpected information encounter as something they rarely experience; the occasional encounterer is a person who encounters information once in a while but relates to these events as a consequence of fate or luck; the encounterer is a person who encounters information often and uses it to their benefit, but does not understand how the experiences of the incidental encounters are related to their information behavior; and the super-encounterer is a person who encounters information in a recurrent and frequent manner, and relates to it as an important and utilitarian part of their information behavior (Erdelez, 1999).

19In this aspect, we suggest an additional temporal-oriented classification according to the scope of temporal depth attained in the info-serendipity episode. That is to say, characterizing the individuals experiencing serendipitous discovery of information, according to: (a) the temporal depth of their past personal resources (e.g., their recent and near-, moderate-, or far- past experiences) that was realized when the bisociation was created and a novel connection formed; and likewise, (b) the temporal depth of future subjective reflections (i.e., forward projections of potential value and use of the information discovered toward the current and near-, moderate-, or far-future terms), that follow. Thus, nine temporal classes of individuals experiencing info-serendipity can be considered:


Recent and Near Past Connector,

Current and Near Future Projector.


Moderate Past Connector,

Current and Near Future Projector.


Far Past Connector,

Current and Near Future Projector.


Recent and Near Past Connector,

Moderate Future Projector.


Moderate Past Connector,

Moderate Future Projector.


Far Past Connector,

Moderate Future Projector.


Recent and Near Past Connector,

Far Future Projector.


Moderate Past Connector,

Far Future Projector.


Far Past Connector,

Far Future Projector.

Table 1: Temporal Classes of Individuals Experiencing Information Serendipity

: Connector. [ / [[ / [[[: Different temporal depths into past personal resources, when connecting.
P: Projector. ) / )) / ))): Different temporal depths of future subjective reflections, when projecting forward.

20Each of these nine temporal classes may represent an individual in a particular serendipitous occurrence, although a pattern regarding the temporal depth scope may also pertain to groups of people. One should also bear in mind that lack of suitably developed instrumentation (Yaqub, 2016), or some mental states like “a temporal splitting of the self that tends to exclude past and future as dimensions [of identity]... As a result, the patients are unable to draw on the experiences of the past” (Fuchs, 2007, p. 381), may hamper the individual’s ability to make such backward connections or forward projections; therefore, this creates three possible additional temporal classes of non-experiencing individuals:


Past Non-Connector,

Future Projector.


Past Connector,

Future Non-Projector.


Past Non-Connector,

Future Non-Projector.

Table 2: Temporal Classes of Non-Experiencing Individuals - Information Serendipity

: Connector. P: Projector. +: Attribute exists. -: Attribute does not exist.

Temporal aspects of the benefits arising from info-serendipity episodes

21The moment that the surprising connection is formed may be considered a kairological time, a temporal experience of “surfacing hidden meanings… an evanescent sudden seeing which strikes us gifting a moment of grace, meaningful insights and knowing” (see: Crowther, Smythe, Spence, 2015, p. 452-453). Serendipitous information encounters can have different types of utilities and benefits. The discussion within the information science field relates, naturally, to the benefits originating from the content of the accidentally discovered information or its use. The info-serendipitous episode’s benefit might be in the perceived value of the encountered information, namely an intangible benefit (Rubin et al., 2011), such as support for an argument claimed, or considered to be claimed, by a lawyer on behalf of a client (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016) or formulation of a new hypothesis (Namian, Grimard, 2013); in presenting, through the information encounter, a solution to an unresolved problem or concern (Rubin et al., 2011), e.g. full or partial settlement of a legal issue under inquiry (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016) or establishment and introduction of a novel theory (Namian, Grimard, 2013); as well as by new actions based on the unexpected encounter with information (Rubin et al., 2011), such as the establishment or expansion of a private collection of court rulings (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016).

22This paper presents a different classification, which is time-oriented. The suggested classification is divided into three temporal features as follows: (a) duration of the information’s validity, (b) the effective moment of the information, and (c) temporal reference and time-frames.

Duration of the information’s validity

23That is the length of time, in universal measurable units, that a particular information retains its power and relevance in an objective widespread manner or for a subjective application. Such an information ‘life span’ might be short, medium, or long . This aspect may relate directly to the information discovered serendipitously; for example, to the validity duration of its manifested ‘additional, or different, thinking course or reasoning’ (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016; See also: McCay-Peet, Toms, 2015, p. 1473, for an example of a short validity duration of information on an advancement in scientific research). However, the encountered information may also imply a reinstating, extending, or limiting impact on the validity of a different body of information that is already in the possession of the encounterer; e.g., prior professional knowledge or concepts. Beyond this, the information’s validity duration may be unknown or might change suddenly. This is especially the case in the legal field, where the law develops rapidly due to frequent changes in legislation and court rulings – so an applicable law might reverse or its validity terminate or be limited in a later court ruling, that may possibly be the object of a chance information discovery. Likewise, the particular encountered information may also have an unknown validity duration that could extend from a few hours or days up to many years, until becoming obsolete due to a later change in the law.

The effective moment of the information

24The information discovered in a serendipitous episode may have an immediate or postponed effective moment, which creates another temporal dimension of its benefits. To wit, serendipity may present informational benefits with an immediate application potential, as well as with forthcoming or distant usage potential. For instance, an encountered information that contributes to the expansion of a unique personal collection (e.g., Rubin et al., 2010) may illustrate an immediate effective moment of the information that can be relied upon and used straightaway. On the other hand, chance discovered information that contributes to the establishment or expansion of a professional knowledge base (such as of legal decisions; see: Solomon, Bronstein, 2016) may exemplify postponed effective moments of the information, that may realize themselves in due course, but also might remain only as unfulfilled potential (cf. Pontis et al., 2015). In the words of Sun et al. (2011, n.p.), “the impact can be short-term (where the benefits of serendipity can be seen immediately) or longer-term (where the serendipitous experience is only potentially useful and the impact will become clearer in time)”. Yet, there is also a third group with both immediate and postponed effective moments. In these cases, a direct and instant benefit arising from the chance discovered information (namely, an immediate effective moment), does not impede the possibility for additional, deferred, effective moments to form. An example of this third type may be a full or partial settlement of a legal issue under inquiry, as well as the manifestation of an additional, or different, thinking course or reasoning (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016; see also: example 3, ‘conference connection’, in Makri, Blandford, 2012).

Temporal reference and time-frames

25Indeed, the encountered information may refer to background concerns in different time frames: past, present and future (Erdelez, 1996, 1999; Solomon, Bronstein, 2016; Yadamsuren, Erdelez, 2010). We further claim that the benefits arising from information serendipity episodes may also refer correspondingly to a number of time frames.

26Gaining, through the serendipitous event, a guiding inspiration for a current architecture design project (Makri, Blandford, 2012) or support for an argument claimed, or considered to be claimed, by a lawyer on behalf of a client (Solomon, Bronstein, 2016); as well as reversing an existing theoretical model due to the unexpected discovery of a significant fact (Namian, Grimard, 2013), and running (literally) into a rare opportunity to study ethnographically the immediate aftermath of a natural catastrophe (Rivoal, Salazar, 2013). Each of these denotes temporal references of benefits, oriented to present and future time frames. Yet, even though an information encounter sometimes “comes too late to address the user’s need” (Erdelez, 1999, p. 27), in legal practice such an encounter is sometimes competent in providing a past referred benefit. An example of this is the Ballpoint Case, where a serendipitous observation had a crucial role in transforming the incrimination of a student, who was already sentenced to imprisonment, into an acquittal (Van Andel, Bourcier, 2001); to wit, both the prior incrimination and guilt found became null and void, in a retroactive beneficial manner.


27By using temporal lenses to explore the serendipity phenomenon in information this paper gains insights into significant temporal aspects of serendipitous information acquisition and provides new paths and viewpoints to study and analyze how temporalities unfold within serendipitous incidents. It is apparent that the notion of time and temporality plays an inherent role in the explanation of serendipity in information, both in the serendipitous process itself, in the classification of background professional concerns underlining such unexpected and valuable encounters, in the classification of individuals who experience information serendipity, and in relation to the benefits arising from the info-serendipitous episodes. This study may hopefully facilitate interdisciplinary discussions on temporal elements of serendipity among both time and information researchers, and offer pertinent theoretical frameworks and insights to guide further inquiry.

28Unavoidably, our study bears several limitations. First, while it covers the temporal related aspects of information serendipity through a fundamental body of scholarship, as a hermeneutic review it is nonetheless selective and not exhaustive. Second, the literature examined is largely concerned with North-American and north-, and west-European research and study populations. A broader coverage and cultural contingent study is beyond the scope of this paper. Future research may inter alia use longitudinal data and mixed-method approaches (as suggested by Lutz, Hoffmann, Meckel, 2016) to explore personal temporal dimensions (e.g., subjective time perception, temporal personality, etc.) of individuals who experience serendipity in information. Furthermore, it can use comparative methodology to study information serendipity in different temporal cultures, since “temporal cultures shape common representations, ways of doing, feeling and acting that bear the mark of here (a group, a society) and now (a period, a generation...)” (Lallement, 2008, para. 30), and the society in which these individuals live may vary from another. In a complementary viewpoint, future research should also consider exploring the notion of serendipity and re-view the temporal analysis, discourse and insights presented, across societies with different temporal foci (De la Fuente, Santiago, Román, Dumitrache, Casasanto, 2014) that attribute “more importance to one pole of the past-future continuum or the other” and practice culture-specific habits of more “focusing one’s attention on past- or future-oriented thoughts and activities” (De la Fuente et al., 2014, p. 1689).

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Yosef Solomon, « Temporal aspects of info-serendipity »Temporalités [En ligne], 24 | 2016, mis en ligne le 29 mars 2017, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Yosef Solomon

Departement des Sciences de l’information
Université Bar-Ilan, Ramat-Gan, Israel 5290002

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