Tuesday, March 15, 2011

StumbleUpon: Just One More Click…

I used to pride myself in the fact that I rarely procrastinated on anything. That was before I developed a more intimate relationship with the Internet. The Internet shows me endless things that I have never seen before; it takes me into a world of endless links and hidden tunnels and secret passageways that transverse the caverns of cyberspace.

            I am very sure that about 90% of the time I personally waste procrastinating is online. Most recently, I cam upon a discovery search engine called StumbleUpon. StumbleUpon is potentially one of the most interesting, time-gobbling, procrastination-inducing websites I have ever found. It is a discovery engine where the user indicates his or her general interests and pushes a “Stumble” button, whereupon a random and usually spectacular web page will appear. These pages show content that ranges from online games to breathtaking photography to humorous video clips to advice on how to deal with your micro-managing mother. You might “stumble upon” a list of the world’s most profound quotes, a site of medieval pie recipes from the cookbooks of royal chefs, links to small fairy-trinket boutiques, or a presentation of the world’s most insane leaders. You might also be bombarded with pictures of nauseatingly cute puppies and kittens, in which case you can hit a “dislike” button, which leads StumpleUpon to personalize your interests by using the principles of peer-sourcing and social networking. The New York Times is quoted on the StumbleUpon homepage, saying “"As you 'stumble' from site to site, you will feel as if you are channel surfing the Internet, or rather, a corner of the Internet that is most relevant to you." 

            StumbleUpon has successfully enticed users with personalized links to thousands of different websites since Novmber of 2001. The software was created by graduate students Garret Camp, Justin LaFrance, Eric Boyd and Geoff Smith while they attended school in Canada. The software for StumbleUpon became an instant success, and Brad O’Neill, a Silicon Valley investor, helped move the company to San Francisco. It grew exponentially from there, switching ownership by larger companies like eBay several times before it finally was bought back by the original creators and became independent again in 2009.

            The first time I “stumbled upon” StumbleUpon, I spent a grand total of 8 hours just sitting in front of my computer, clicking the Stumble button like a lab rat pushing the dispenser pedal every few minutes for another hit of heroine. Did I just have 8 hours to kill, with no hovering responsibilities or work to do? Of course not. I had work coming out of my ears and I should have been sleeping instead of staring blankly at a computer screen at 3 am. Yet for some reason, all sense of urgency for my priorities slid down the drain as I was lead on an interactive and fascinating journey through cyberspace. Are time-sucking websites like StumbleUpon another outlet for Internet abuse? If left without some kind of monitor or cue to tear your eyes away from the screen, than yes, StumbleUpon is most definitely a website that holds the potential for individuals to abuse their use of the Internet.

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