Jumping Ship to the MS Serendipity

Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that CodePlex is pointed in the right direction, proceeding under its own [community-driven] power, and certain to achieve its destination, with or without a full time product manager: me. Cap'n Jim is firmly attached to the helm and he is supported by a motivated (read, non-mutinous) and talented crew, which now includes the illustrious .NET Guy, Brad Wilson. When Squadron Cmdr Sandy Khaund recently suggested that I shift into product planning mode for a new project that we just kicked off, I wasn't at all surprised or put off. As Team Foundation's product unit manager, Brian Harry recently surmised, post-launch "re-orgs" are part and parcel of the Microsoft employee experience.

Aided by a great feature team (shout outs to George, Pete, and Jonathan as well as Brad and Jim), countless colleagues at Microsoft, my many good friends in the Microsoft developer community, a bit of good fortune, and a lot of hard work, I seem to have worked myself out of a full-time job. Woohoo!

I will continue to contribute to CodePlex over the coming year. However, I plan to focus increasing amounts of energy and time on the next big thing... Aye, I would like to have taken a bit of shore leave in Hawai'i between jobs. But alas, my new team awaits!

Without coughing up more about my new project than I should (I would hate to over promise and under deliver), I can say that I am excited to focus my attention on another v1 project and a "feature area" that has fascinated me, practically all of my life: Serendipity.

Serendipity occurs when you make a fortunate discovery, seemingly by accident. Magical serendipity can make your spine tingle. Great software applications are rife with serendipity. They are self-documenting, intuitive, non-insulting (as Clippy was insulting), and every once in awhile, new uses of existing features just "occur" to you. That's the best!

What's missing from most software is the kind of social serendipity that occurs in the real world. Other people--usually those that know us well--have an uncanny knack for anticipating our needs and proposing answers to questions we have not asked: social serendipity. It sometimes occurs when you're reading blogs. If you know how to leverage OPML feeds to your advantage and find other users who share your freakishly unique interests, it can happen with fair regularity. But social serendipity is generally lacking in most software applications, for most users. Can this be changed?

As I was reading through an engrossing thread on Gotdotnet's infamous Off Topic Discussions message board today, I came across a report of one user's experience with social-software serendipity:

"Most amusing GDN thread?
Posted on:  07/13/2006 01:26:58

<quote>I could hardly believe it when somebody replied recently after nearly 5 years!!</quote>

I took a look at that thread, and amazing[ly], it answered a question I've been scratching my head over on and off (not until it bleeds of course) for a few days!"

-AlanFo (Gotdotnet Super User)

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout, Willis! Should it have been this difficult for AlanFo to experience serendipity? Would it have been possible to somehow feed Alan this unexpectedly useful information a week sooner? If so, how?

UAT0: User can frequently and quickly discover new and useful things about the software they are using, as if by accident and with little conscious effort, by their interactions with other users and the resources they have created.