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StumbleUpon Replacement Mix in for Mixed Reviews from Internet Surfers


In a previous post of ours, Website Discovery Engines and the Rise of Big Wave Internet Surfing, we explained the difference between regular, old-school internet surfing and big wave internet surfing.

In the former, internet surfers begin their surf session by typing keywords into a search engine. After the engine produces a search results page full of links to webpages relevant to their keywords, they then click on a link that interests them, sending them to a webpage, and by implication an interesting, and possibly brand new, website. They then keep clicking links within the website until their interest peters out, eventually returning to the search engine to start the process over again.

With big wave internet surfing, internet surfers let a discovery engine do most of the hard work for them. In big wave ocean surfing, ocean surfers let fellow surfers on jet skis pull them onto bigger and faster moving waves that they otherwise couldn’t catch on their own. Similarly, discovery engines direct internet surfers to new and interesting webpages, and by implication websites, they might not have stumbled upon on their own.

Now in sad news for internet surfers everywhere, the most popular, and arguably the most fun, discovery engine, StumbleUpon, has shut down. The creators of StumbleUpon have replaced it with a new engine called Mix.

In explaining their decision to shut down, the creators metaphorically described how difficult it was becoming to find signals through the noise. In its heydey, StumbleUpon’s strength was its simplicity, randomly displaying webpages at the push of a button that coincided with an internet surfer’s stated interests. These webpages came from a deep catalog of pages compiled by other internet surfers who submitted them in the course of their own surf sessions.

But over time, StumbleUpon began serving up less relevant and less interesting webpages. Though it’s not entirely clear how the creators believe this ineffectiveness came to be, one can speculate that it was partly due to its catalog becoming oversaturated with junk from marketers. It also may have been partly due to the declining interest of internet surfers in taking the time to add new and interesting webpages to its catalog. In short, its strength became a weakness.

To reinvigorate their primary mission to help internet surfers find new and interesting stuff on the web, the creators designed a new discovery engine that would harness the power of the increasingly dominant way people are discovering stuff online: social sharing.

Primarily through social media, web users are becoming more reliant on recommendations from friends and people they follow to find things they want to read and watch on the web. In other words, web users have certain friends and follow certain people because they share certain experiences and interests. If those friends or people recommend something on the web, it more than likely will be something that intrigues them too.

The creators of Mix hope to harness this trend by creating a discovery engine that is a blend of a newsreader and a bookmarking tool. In the newsreader part, a Mix algorithm displays articles that appeal to an internet surfer's declared interests in a newsfeed.

In the bookmarking part, both Mix editors and users can create “collections” in which they bookmark things they’ve found on the web or perhaps even in the Mix newsfeed with a common theme. Other Mix users can search for these collections by keywords.

Collections are really the essence of Mix in that they should help Mix users discover new and interesting stuff on the web through what one Mix creator calls “contextual curation.” By allowing their own editors as well as Mix users to curate interesting webpages into collections with common themes, i.e., give them context, the creators of Mix believe that they can more effectively cut through the noise of the web.

To some degree, the Mix creators have been successful in recreating the simplicity of StumbleUpon. It's pretty easy to add stuff found on the internet to its catalog as well as to create personal collections. It’s also easy to find people with similar interests to follow and to discover stuff through their personal collections.

But other than that, internet surfers might end up being a little disappointed with this new discovery engine for several reasons. For one, it is not something that one might call revolutionary. Mix is just a mix of two pre-existing discovery engines. Mix is basically part Feedly, a newsreader, and part Pinterest, a website/app that allows users to “pin” stuff onto virtual pinboards (i.e., create collections.)

Second, it's kind of taken a step backward in the sense that it's gone from big wave internet surfing to old school internet surfing. In StumbleUpon, all an internet surfer had to do was click a button and presumably a new and interesting webpage, and presumably website, would present itself.

In Mix, an internet surfer has to find "collections” of new and interesting web pages by typing keywords into a search bar, almost as if they're searching on Google. That's old school. True, they might stumble upon a collection full of new and interesting webpages that was created by Mix editors or another internet surfer, an instance of "contextual creation," but it's not as effortless as it was before.

Third, Mix is no longer so much a webpage (and website) discovery engine as it is a content discovery engine. In our previously mentioned post about big wave internet surfing, we pointed out the difference between the two. Through the former, internet surfers could discover webpages with more long-lasting information, or what some people call "evergreen" information, and the websites they existed on. Through the latter, internet surfers could discover more transitory information, usually about current events or issues, often in the form of articles, blog posts, photos, and videos.

In both the newsreader and collection portions of the Mix website and app, the items to be found are mostly articles, blog posts, photos, and videos, or what is commonly known as content. It's not like the old StumbleUpon where the push of a button showed a surfer some random evergreen webpage about a topic that interested them, usually exposing them at the same time to a whole new website that contained even more interesting evergreen webpages about the topic. Now it's mostly just transitory content.

To be fair, Mix is still relatively new. At this time, Mix may just be a content discovery engine where internet surfers can find content about the day's news or contemporary issues that everyone is already talking about. But perhaps over time, Mix editors and users will create more collections focused more on evergreen webpages than transitory content. It may yet become a discovery engine for finding new and interesting webpages (and websites) that everyone doesn't already know about.

Photo Credit: SSN:satellitesportsnetwork.com

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