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Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

A chance encounter in the real world—whether on the street where you live or in a café far from home—can make for a great story. A chance encounter on the Internet, however, doesn't quite conjure that same Eureka! magic. It's not just because of all the phishing schemers and anonymous weirdos lurking around. You lose the cinematic sweep of a real-life run-in because it’s a chance encounter lacking for chance: Facebook exists to facilitate awkward e-mail reunions with dimly remembered grade-school compatriots, and no one wanders into an online forum by happenstance. Yet, we’ve found six destinations that invite serendipity into your office, kitchen, or wherever you chance upon some WiFi.

Trip to Bountiful: StumbleUpon.com


For the closest we've come to a true online chance encounter—right down to its name—try StumbleUpon, which is like having the entire Internet on carefully curated shuffle-play. Click on as many categories as you like ("Astronomy," "Beauty," "Gardening," "Photography"...) and download the site's toolbar (which is admittedly a little irksome—to make it work, I had to switch from my elderly laptop to my husband's snazzy Mac), and StumbleUpon will begin drip-feeding you an addictive stream of sites. Less than an hour after I'd set up my account, I'd already StumbledUpon the following: My point in making this list (which is in no way comprehensive) is simply that StumbleUpon is the greatest thing ever invented. The site makes the Internet—and by extension, the world—seem both bigger and smaller, infinite in its possibilities yet totally accessible. Warning: I have gotten lost in the wilds of Wikipedia and have fallen down many a YouTube rabbit hole, but never has a website hijacked my brain, my attention span, and time itself quite like StumbleUpon.

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