Part of the beauty of the internet and HTML is its inherent serendipity — links lead you somewhere, and other links lead you somewhere else, beyond, anywhere. Yet, serendipitous as the web may be, few sites encourage this sort of haphazard exploration.
As developer Derek Powazek writes, “Serendipity powers the social web. It’s why every website has a “share this” link. Serendipity is at the core of why Twitter is fun, YouTube is valuable, and everyone you know has a Facebook account.”
In fact, argues Powazek, “we should be designing for serendipity.”
Unfortunately, things like the bottom line, advertising dollars and other external forces mean web designers are tasked with keeping you on a page, not sending you off to discover something else. Even Powazek’s examples, like YouTube’s “related videos” section is inherently designed to keep you on YouTube’s page. But the way it keeps you on YouTube is by creating a potentially serendipitous experience.
Nothing is going to change the need or desire to keep visitors on your page, particularly if eyeballs on those pages are your source of income, but adding the element of the accidental discovery to your site can make it even more valuable for your visitors.
Here’s more advice from Powazak (who is a former Webmonkey, by the way):
If you make a website, take a look at it and ask yourself, “when someone comes here looking for one thing, where do I have the opportunity to tell them about something else?” It could be in a footer, for example. This can be tricky, because you don’t want to interrupt a self-directed experience. Just look for the cracks where you can leave hints about what else is available. Hint: Newspapers have been designed this way for years. Crib, crib heartily.
There are many serendipitous routes that lead people to your stuff. Understand what they are and nurture them. But don’t become over-reliant on them. Design your stuff to create serendipitous connections between things. Look for every opportunity to hint that there’s much more to be discovered. Take the time to design the serendipity in to the experience.
Or, you could watch this video about drinking monkeys and see where that leads you:
Bookshelf photo by Juhan Sonin/Flickr/CC