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January 2, 2009

Stumble Upon Greatness

This Extra Ink was written by Betsy C..

We all know how much great stuff there is on the Internet--and how much junk. It's easy to become frustrated with the sheer bulk of sites that are out there. Don't you wish there was some kind of filter that could lead you directly to the websites that are just right for you? Something like a search engine, but refined, customizable, and selective? Even better--something that could help you keep track of the great sites you know and love, and introduce you to new ones that might be even better. You know, a sort of tour guide on the journey down the Information Superhighway.

Ignore the cheap metaphor and get ready for greatness, people, because such a thing actually exists. Meet StumbleUpon, my new Internet savior. StumbleUpon is part search engine, part social network, and total procrastination-inducing deliciousness. Here's how it works: you sign up for a free account and make a list of all your interests and hobbies. Anything from water polo to fanfiction to discount shopping (and hundreds--probably thousands--of other subjects in between), StumbleUpon has it all.

Once it knows what you like, the real genius kicks in. S.U. finds all its other users who share your interests, and it shows you sites, photos, and videos that those people have enjoyed. It does this in a random sequence every time you click on the "Stumble!" button that will appear on your browser once you've installed the program. If you like the site, you let S.U. know so it can pass it along to other, say, Minor League baseball enthusiasts (or whatever is making you tick that day). If you don't like it, you can tell the program why, so that you won't come across a site like it again. The more you stumble, the smarter the program gets. This can be both good and bad, of course. Eventually, every site it offers up to you will seem totally amazing, and you'll find yourself wanting to click on that "Stumble!" button even when you know you should have started your homework long ago. Or maybe that's just me. But when used prudently, StumbleUpon is a wonderfully powerful tool. With new members joining all the time, and constant refinements to the software, it's only getting better at knowing just what you'll like. Whether it's a poem by Pablo Neruda or the latest viral video, every new site S.U. gives you is a bit of (metaphor warning again) buried treasure from the wide Internet jungle.

PS: Teen Ink has a StumbleUpon account--just search for our name at stumbleupon.com and check out the sites we've been digging lately!

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