The internet is home to over a billion websites, and there’s no good way to explore them aimlessly. StumbleUpon was the answer to this problem. He put a big “Shuffle” button on the internet, and the web didn’t seem so big.
What is StumbleUpon?
StumbleUpon was created in 2001 by Garrett Camp, Geoff Smith, Justin LaFrance and Eric Boyd. The idea came from the fact that typical search engines only work if you know what you are looking for. Music Discovery had Pandora, but there was nothing similar for the Internet.
The solution they found was StumbleUpon. On the surface, it looked simple enough – just a toolbar with a “Stumble” button and thumbs up and thumbs down options. It was easy to use too. With the push of a button, you were presented with a random website, which you can then rate to help your future Stumbles.
In the background was machine learning and algorithms working to figure out what kind of websites you would like to see. You can also do more targeted stumbles on specific topics and categories. But in essence, it was just a way to wander around the internet randomly.
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A tool for explorers
StumbleUpon was a darling of the internet in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It was a time when the internet was still primarily something people accessed on a computer. Smartphones were becoming popular, but not everyone had them yet.
Many people got their first taste of the post-dial Internet around this time. This has made StumbleUpon the perfect tool for people wanting to explore the “new” Internet. It was the same feeling as having your first smartphone and downloading a bunch of apps. Everything was new and exciting.
I bought my first laptop in 2007 and a friend told me about StumbleUpon. It was just the right thing for an internet newbie. I had this whole new world in front of me, but I didn’t know where to start. It was really like moving to a whole new city and trying to find things to do.
Make the Internet more walkable
StumbleUpon has made the internet much more accessible. You were just one click away from discovering an interesting website you’d never heard of.
The Internet is like a big city: it’s easy to spend your whole life there without knowing that a good restaurant is just a few blocks away. In the same way, you may have no idea that there is a very popular website out there with content that is just right for you.
That was the magic of StumbleUpon. It made the massive internet city more connected. One minute you’re looking at some guy’s blog with an alpaca farm, the next minute you’re engrossed in a story from a local Utah newspaper. Otherwise, how would you ever have come across these two sites?
Of course, not every site you came across would be interesting. You probably don’t like every restaurant you’ve tried either. But that was what made it fun. It wasn’t literally about trying to find a new website to add to your rotation, it was about exploring a new place. This place happened to be all internet.
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What happened to StumbleUpon?
I talked about StumbleUpon in the past tense, but that’s the case technically still exists. In 2018, StumbleUpon was shut down in favor of Garrett Camp’s new service called “Mix”. StumbleUpon accounts were moved to Mix and users were able to import their StumbleUpon favorites.
Mix is also discovery-oriented, but it’s not about websites anymore. It presents photos and videos in a way that looks very similar to Reddit or TikTok. StumbleUpon’s magic is dead.
However, there are still services that do what the original StumbleUpon made popular. “WebRoll” is a web application that offers a very similar experience to StumbleUpon. However, the internet is a very different place now. You might not find as many friendly personal blogs created by alpaca breeders.
For a while, StumbleUpon brought the internet together. It was pretty cool.
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