No, I’m not a fan of the new Stumbleupon

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.

20 Comments

  1. Well, you’ve nailed it.

    Just to add, I am under the impression that – excruciatingly slow as it was – the changeover was an attempt to wipe the slate clean and start anew. They have a new philosophy, a new strategy and have now implemented all the changes that have been in the pipeline for at least a year. It was like watching an accident in slow-motion and I think that at some point the logic was taken to its extreme end: the departure and grievances of many loyal users, carefully built up over the years, is just the collateral that had to be taken into account. New users will come, SU is a well-known name, and the new layout and reduced features will provide a lower barrier to entry.

    I’m guessing the new setup, without blogs or cumbersome interactive features will also be easier to run and therefore less cost- and labour-intensive. The layout and the handling are *lean*, but, arguably also very sparse.

    And this is the hitch, I think. Recommendation is such a personal and social process and trust is so integral to it: we don’t just take advice from anyone, we only go for sources that have proven themselves and we feel are on the same wavelength as us, which means, mainly other people.

    I don’t believe in the algorhythm. Not only does the button-clicking wear thin very quickly (unless there is something neurotically wrong with one), but the sites available are rarely of interest. However, once you build up an online relationship with other people with similar interests, the picture changes and their “sends” and messages almost always carry interest. They carry interest because there is a context, there is a conversation and the recommendation comes as part of a very human process.

    And this is something, clever people as they are, SU as a company doesn’t seem to have grasped. They have a fantastic idea – a recommendation engine – that by itself dehumanises something very human. You need the bells and whistles – the blogs, the interaction, the superusers and the community – to transplant that online.

    Sorry for the long comment, it’s the morning after and I’m having difficulty focussing, never mind being concise…

  2. Hi Ashok,

    It’s nice to read your thoughts on the new StumbleUpon. I’ve discovered some excellent sites, thanks to a few users I’ve befriended there. When I let my personal sites slip, I stopped logging on to StumbleUpon.

    I’m now curious to see what the new site is like, since I haven’t logged onto it in about a year. I believe I still have my logon information, and so I’ll stop by there to get my reaction to their revamped site.

  3. To be honest, the only people I am “social” with on StumbleUpon – or *wish* to be social with – are people I know from outside the SU context. SU is simply mindless entertainment for me. My interests profile is pretty fully fleshed-out, so I get plenty of links of interest. I don’t *need* anyone specifically sending me links (though, it’s cool that they can).

    I only really have two problems with the redesign: 1) when you discover a new page, the submission interface has been made kinda sucktacular; 2) things seem to have *really* slowed down to the point of Tumblr-like sluggishness (i.e., you press the Stumble button and it’s not nearly as instantaneous as it used to be – it’s anywhere from a couple to tens of seconds before the toolbar responds)

    My

  4. Its not the same anymore , stumbleupon has become a complete waste of time , as most of the recommendations i now get are of no interest to me , its become very spammy too , lots of people just recommending their own sites .

  5. Do people really want random sites thrown at them all the time? HELL YES!!!
    Why use SU otherwise? If what you want is to go play on Facebook then go there instead of bitching that SU isn’t!

    The entire Web does NOT have to be a social networking site. I’ll give you points for being articulate if a bit dense.

  6. Like you said, Stumbleupon is not a social networking site. It’s purpose is and has always been to give you something to look at when no one’s on Facebook or your favorite forum, or no one you subscribe to on Youtube has posted a new video, and it does that perfectly. I put in all my interests, and now at the click of a mouse, anytime I want, I get content that I enjoy most of the time. I haven’t even touched my profile page. I don’t have a clue what I stuck in there when I first joined, and I’m never going to look. You know why? Because I don’t give a fuck what’s there. That’s not why I use Stumbleupon, and I have absolutely no idea why you want it to be emphasized on.

  7. You’re precisely right.

    I too understand the motives behind the metamorphosis of StumbleUpon.

    And I too lament over the fact that one of my favourite web services is ailing.

    (also a long time user of SU ≈10yrs)

  8. You guys are pretty sell centered.

    I can stumble, and it goes pretty fast (and free). About the only thing that has ever bugged me about the service is semi-duplicates that pop up from time to time.

  9. For me, StumbleUpon has been a service that produces potentially interesting websites. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I don’t care about interfaces, followers, links to Twitter or Facebook. Interesting content.

    Not that StumbleUpon is very good at that, because 80 or so percent of what’s being served doesn’t match my personal criteria. Nevertheless, the remaining 20% are enough to have me “hooked” to StumbleUpon for almost as long as it exists.

    And as far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep using their service as long as I deem it worthwhile.

  10. Stumbleupon by it’s own description is to “find cool new websites, videos, photos and images from across the Web”. As others have pointed it, it’s Meant to have page after page thrown in your face. If Stumbleupon is lacking the ‘bells and whistles’ you want, it might be a good idea to go look for it elsewhere. They most certainly don’t ‘need’ it.

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