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Opportunistic Discovery of Information

Sanda Erdelez, Guilherme DeSouza, Chi-Ren Shyu, Antonie Stam and Kevin Wise

Overview of the project

Whether it’s a Facebook user who logs on for a status update but ends up reading breaking news on the New York Times website, or a lab technician who happens to notice abnormal knee deterioration while checking the X-ray of a patient being seen for a broken toe, chance discoveries are usually chalked up sheer coincidence.

But is there more to it?

“We don’t only find information when we are desperately searching for it in an organized way,” says Sanda Erdelez, an associate professor in the School of information Science and Learning Technologies.

“More often, discoveries occur when humans pick up on unexpected opportunities in the environment,” she says, citing the accidental discovery of penicillin as prime example. The fancy term for this process of finding something by accident is  “opportunistic discovery of information,” or ODI.

With the help of a $48,000 Mizzou Advantage grant, Erdelez has started to assemble a team of collaborators from across campus equipped to produce premier research into how and why we take notice of extraneous information and use the findings to develop real world applications in marketing, medicine and beyond.

MU’s ODI team, including researchers from journalism, business, engineering and informatics, is still growing, but has already hosted an international workshop, published several papers and identified grant-funding opportunities.

International Workshop

The First International Workshop on Opportunistic Discovery of Information was hosted on the MU campus on October 2010. The two-day conference brought together 17 researchers from Canada, Finland, Japan, U.K., and U.S. to share their ODI research in the contexts of online searching, news reading, entrepreneurial innovation and scientific research environments. The workshop not only provided a great international networking opportunity for MU researchers and an opportunity to showcase the campus and laboratories, but also cast Mizzou’s ODI team as a leader in defining and organizing the new emerging field of research.

Erdelez, for instance, led an exercise to identify conflicting terminology used in ODI as a first step to fostering better interdisciplinary communication. Antonie Stam, a professor in the Trulaske College of Business, led a roundtable discussion on current and future research methodologies and ways to use digital forums to share new information, network and form research collaborations.


Sanda Erdelez and Borchuluun Yadamsuren, a post-doctoral fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute each presented oral presentation at the Serendipity, Chance and Opportunistic Discovery of Information Research workshop at McGill University in Montreal, Canada in April 2012. Yadamsuren spoke on “Incidental exposure to online news among rural Americans” and Erdelez presented on “Development of a scale to measure individual differences in opportunistic discovery of information.”


Carol Smith, doctoral candidate in the School of Information Science & Learning Technologies, published “Geospatial encountering: Opportunistic information discovery in web-based GIS environments” in the 2011 Proceedings of the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Xin Wang, Sanda Erdelez, Carla Allen, Blake Anderson, Hongfei Cao and Chi-Ren Shyu Medical image describing behavior: a comparison between an expert and novice in Proceedings of the 2011 iConference.

Related Initiative(s):
Media of the Future

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