I’m a pretty dedicated SU user, but I don’t understand the direction they’re taking the site. Actually, I kinda do understand it, and it makes some sense. It’s just that what makes sense in terms of attracting advertisers isn’t always the best thing for user experience or even the long term future of the site.
That doesn’t mean Stumbleupon in its previous form was sustainable. It does need to compete on mobile devices. It does need some way of getting the more established parts of the Internet involved. Hence, a stripped down interface, an emphasis on the experience of stumbling (hitting a button and getting good random sites), and channels where celebrities and brands feature prominently. I’ll just say this: what is necessary is not always good.
The first thing that bugs me is the de-emphasis on the profile page. I get to tell a little bit about myself. No place for a URL, no “follow me on twitter,” no space to introduce why I use the service and what I might be able to contribute to the site or to others. Quite honestly, given how many people are using Facebook to meet people they’ve never met, one might think Stumbleupon might want to encourage a bit more connection among the userbase. I understand SU is not a social network. That doesn’t mean this isn’t insulting. Tumblr’s success isn’t just the ease of content-production. It’s also that if you want to be known there, that’s your right and option, and they encourage users to meet each other. Do people really want random sites thrown at them all the time?
Stumble seems to think that’s the primary service. There’s an algorithm and it gives people content to look at. This has to be the most ridiculous idea ever. The value of any service is what people get out of it.
Which brings up the primary question: what is the value to the user? Can I create a channel? I’m a small-time content producer. Nope, it looks like channels are restricted to the likes of CNN or The Atlantic. Which is funny, since last I checked, I can get that content elsewhere on the web.
Don’t get me wrong. The “explore” box is a great idea and gives SU a functionality that any massive collection of data needs. And yes, Stumbleupon definitely some degree of “curated content.” Not because the users were so terrible, but because any link I might share from Der Spiegel or The Atlantic was probably going to be utterly insignificant compared to pictures of lolcats. This isn’t an argument for elitism, but rather the diversity any site that is a service needs.
Again, the issue is what good the user gets out of a site. With Tumblr, easy content production and a large userbase eager to say hi are advantageous to anyone signing up. With Facebook, the fact one can sign up and immediately start friending nearly everyone known in the past and present can’t be taken for granted. I had one friend sign up and add something like 100 people he knew in a day. I don’t know how much people need a constant content stream from a button that throws random content at them. That was part of SU, sure. It was part of it because people wanted to see what other users found.