Stumbling Toward Success: The Singular Story of StumbleUpon

Everyone loves discovering a new blog that delivers great insights or a super piece of content that solves a problem or provides value in some way. But as the Internet continues to grow, we sometimes resort to following our favorite set of websites without taking the time to search for new places of interest. Which leaves us to wonder: What really cool content is out there that we’ll never see?

StumbleUpon is a discovery engine that categorizes and recommends websites, photos, and videos according to our individual interests.

Stumble Beginnings (and Winnings)

StumbleUpon dates back to 2001 when Garrett Camp and other entrepreneurs came up with the idea of a network that allows people to share and rate content – using social networking principles to recommend targeted content. The company is based in San Francisco and offers some impressive employee perks, like breakfast and lunch five days a week.

The social network uses collaborative filtering that combines our opinions with machine learning about preferences to create communities of people with similar interests. Content is rated according to your preferences, your friends’ recommendations, demographics and other proprietary factors.

When you set up your account, you’ll provide your Stumble DNA – a summary of the interests you might enjoy stumbling. That will provide the network with an initial data set in terms of what might interest you. As the data increases over time, StumbleUpon should have increasingly better insights into what kinds of content you might like.

For marketers, StumbleUpon can be a great channel for driving traffic because a solid piece of content can rack up stumbles like crazy. Businesses can also buy targeted ads on Paid Discovery, the network’s advertising platform. There are three targeting options: Auto Targeting, which lets StumbleUpon choose topics and demographics for your campaign; Precise Interest Targeting, which allows you to manually select audience interests, and Broad Interest Targeting, which includes topic bundles aimed at groups like Business Professionals and Humor Seekers.

Don’t call it a StumbleBack (They’ve been here for years)

EBay bought StumbleUpon for $75 million in 2007, but the social network didn’t prove the best fit for the mammoth online marketplace. Camp, venture capital firms, and others bought StumbleUpon back in 2009 for a reported $29 million. Two years under eBay had left StumbleUpon adrift, but a comeback was on the horizon. StumbleUpon would later undergo a major redesign that improved user experience and also launch popular mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Still, things are never easy in the competitive world of social. StumbleUpon went through another round of growing pains early this year, reportedly laying off some 30 percent of its staff as part of a structural reorganization toward profitability. But things are far from bleak for the network. Millions of stumblers are intensely loyal to the network and StumbleUpon recently upgraded its offerings for iPhone and iPad.

What are your thoughts about StumbleUpon? Do you think the network is quietly (compared to the likes of Twitter or Facebook) moving toward becoming a top-tier network, or is the top social tier too crowded? We’d love to hear your opinion.