Scott Kleinman helps develop online search tool Serendip-o-matic

During the week of Sunday July 28 – Saturday August 3, 2013, English Professor Scott Kleinman was part of the One Week | One Tool Team that developed the web application Serendip-o-matic. Unlike conventional search tools, this “serendipity engine” takes in your chosen text—such as an article, song lyrics, or a bibliography—then extracts key terms to deliver similar results from the vast online collections of the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, Trove Australia, and Flickr Commons. Because Serendip-o-matic asks sources to speak for themselves, users can step back and discover connections they never knew existed.

Inspired by both longstanding and cutting-edge models of rapid community development, One Week | One Tool built on the natural collaborative strengths of the digital humanities community to produce something useful for humanities work. The event, hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, brought together a group of twelve digital humanists to conceive and build a working piece of scholarly software in a mere six days.

Comprising designers and developers as well as scholars, teachers, project managers, outreach specialists, and other non-technical participants, the group conceived a tool, outlined a roadmap, developed and disseminated an initial prototype in under a week. After sixteen-hour days of practical design, development, project management, and outreach, Serendip-o-matic was launched with great fanfare. Video of the launch can be viewed on the One Week | One Tool web site.

Professor Kleinman served on the Design/Development team, working on both the back-end framework and the front-end display. Towards the end of the week, he was fixing bugs, adding new code, and formatting the results simultaneously with other collaborators running around in similar frantic activity. He is proud to have contributed to the development of a tool that will provide the humanities community – and the public – with a new way of accessing the cultural heritage in digital form. He looks forward to continuing to develop Serendip-o-matic in the future.

As one early user put it, “Google is for generating needles; Serendip-o-matic is for generating haystacks.” Try it out. Let your sources surprise you.

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