The Internet is home to over a billion websites, and it’s not a good way to aimlessly explore them. StumbleUpon was the answer to this problem. He put a big “Random” button on the Internet, and the web didn’t seem that big.
What was 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’re looking for. Music discovery had Pandora, but there was nothing like it for the Internet.
The solution they came up with was StumbleUpon. On the surface, it seemed simple enough: just a toolbar with a “Trip” 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 could then qualify to help your future Stumbles.
In the background, there was machine learning and algorithms working to figure out what kind of websites you would like to see. You could also make Stumbles more focused on specific topics and categories. But in essence, it was just a way of randomly wandering around the Internet.
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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 that people accessed from a computer. Smartphones were becoming popular, but not everyone had one yet.
A lot of people were getting their first taste of post-dial-up internet at this time. That made StumbleUpon the perfect tool for people looking 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 had no idea where to start. It really was like moving to a new city and trying to find things to do.
Make the internet more walkable
StumbleUpon made the internet feel so much more accessible. You were just one click away from discovering an interesting website that you would never have known about.
The Internet is like a big city: it’s easy to go your whole life not knowing that a great restaurant is just a couple of blocks away. In the same way, you may have no idea that there is a very popular website with content to match it.
That was the magic of StumbleUpon. He made the huge Internet city feel more connected. One minute you’re looking at a blog from a guy with an alpaca farm, the next minute you’re engrossed in a story from a local newspaper in Utah. How else would you have come across those two websites?
Of course, not every site you came across would be interesting; You probably won’t like every restaurant you’ve tried, either. But that’s what made it fun. It wasn’t literally about trying to find a new website to add to their rotation, it was about exploring a new place. That place turned out to be the entire Internet.
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What happened to StumbleUpon?
I’ve been talking about StumbleUpon in the past tense, but no technically still exists. In 2018, StumbleUpon was closed in favor of Garrett Camp’s new service called “Mix”. StumbleUpon accounts were transferred to Mix and users were able to import their favorites from StumbleUpon.
Mix is also discovery-oriented, but it’s not about websites anymore. It displays photos and videos in a way that seems very similar to Reddit or TikTok. The magic of StumbleUpon is dead.
However, there are still services that do what the original StumbleUpon popularized. “WebRoll” is a web application that offers a very similar experience to StumbleUpon. However, the Internet is a very different place now. You may not find as many friendly personal blogs made by alpaca breeders.
For a moment in time, StumbleUpon brought more of the Internet together. That was very good.
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