“Stumbling”: the new Googling?

A trio of Canadian programmers has created a new, social way to surf the web — StumbleUpon. It’s a little application that recommends interesting sites for you to visit, based on the votes of other StumbleUpon users. I haven’t downloaded it to try it out yet myself, but it sounds a bit like the Alexa toolbar, which collaboratively filters people’s recommendations in a similar way (or at least, that’s how Alexa used to work that last time I used it; not sure if it still does.)

I’ll give these guys one thing: “Stumbling” is a superb word to describe the way people actually surf the web. “Surfing” and “browsing” always seemed to me like slightly self-congratulatory words. The former suggests a level of poise and elegance, and the latter a studious quality, that kinda doesn’t quite capture my average Net session — where I’m bouncing between joke Flash sites, weird-science white papers, news organizations and cryptoblogs, all in a desperate attempt to avoid doing any actual paying work. “Stumbling” has a sad-sack quality that more precisely captures the sheer aimlessness of most of my Internet activity.

The funny thing is, it seems like everywhere I turn there’s another piece of software promising to revolutionize my life with social networking — the everpresent meme du jour. In fact, there’s even a backlash brewing. While blogging recently about Eurekster over at Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin threw it down:

eurekster, “the only search engine with personalized results,” launched today after several months of beta testing. The site promises to “show you What’s Hot with your friends… results get better as you invite more friends.” Is there a word for that post-Friendster/Tribe/LinkedIn/SixDegrees oh-god-not-again feeling I’m getting as I read the launch announcement? Like, HTML rug burn? I mean, really — I haven’t played around with eurekster yet, and I mean no disrespect to whoever built the project. But if one more website asks me to “invite all of my friends,” I swear I’m gonna fucking throw up. Invite your own damn friends, you website.

(Thanks to El Rey for pointing out StumbleUpon!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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