Even though I have something on the order of 1,000 channels
on my digital cable, any two at a time of which can be recorded on my DVR
and watched later, I still spend far more time browsing the web than I do
watching TV. The irony, though, is that despite the fact that the web has
orders of magnitude more content than my cable box, and all of it is “on
demand,” I have a hard time finding stuff that is actually interesting to
look at that I haven’t already seen.
Lest I turn this into a millennium remake of Springsteen’s
1992 hit “57 Channels and Nothing’s On” (57 channels? How quaint… he must
have only had basic cable), let me state that I am sure that there is actually
a lot of very interesting and rewarding content on the web… but how do you
find it? You can’t exactly type “stuff I’m interested in” in the Google search
bar and be satisfied with the results.
Then I discovered the balm for the weary web traveler: StumbleUpon. Billed as “a new way to surf
the web”, StumbleUpon is essentially a page-ranked index of the web sorted
by categories of interest. For instance, those interested in history can
tell that to StumbleUpon, then be led to pages that have been well-rated
by others who share their interest in history. Chances are, many of them
have been to great sites that others have never seen, and the probability
is increased that the information about which pages are cool and which ones
suck will be more easily disseminated. Great idea in theory, and it works
pretty well in practice.
After joining StumbleUpon (no cost, and no ads—StumbleUpon
is supported by premium memberships and sponsor-driven uprankings), you are
asked to identify your interests among a long list of potentials, with no
limit on how many you select; the broader your stated interests, the greater
the diversity of sites you can be exposed to. I selected about 8 or 9 interest
categories, and that was plenty to get me started.
I then installed the StumbleUpon toolbar in Firefox (my browser of choice,
but toolbars can be installed in Internet Explorer, Netscape and Mozilla
as well), which is used to navigate and rate websites using the service.
Clicking on the Stumble button loads a new website from
among the categories of interest you specified. Here’s a sampling of some
of the content I was fed in my first search:
a community-driven variety “mag” for the web on arts, culture, computers,
food, and much more.
a blog for interesting goings-on (including an article on “clear concrete”,
concrete that you can actually see through! I love this stuff.)
about, of course, all things mullet. ‘Nough said.
Darwin Awards, the classic annual award for those who self-select
themselves out of the gene pool in disturbingly funny ways.
That Stuff, from Chemical & Engineering News.
The chemistry behind everyday stuff like Cheez Whiz, spandex, and
Brick Testament: Bible stories animated by Lego figures
(Adam and Eve, in this clip). Quite a lot of work went into this
one. Truly weird.
There’s much more, of course, and as you can tell I love finding oddball
stuff on the web. However, there’s plenty of useful, straight-laced content
Another nice feature of StumbleUpon is that the site has a community that
offers reviews of various sites so you can see what others have to say about
them (like the posts below about HalfBakery):
For instance, nilstycho mentions Sodaplay in
his post, which I’ve never visited before, so I went and checked it out too.
Hard-core web surfing isn’t for everyone, and it can be a consummate time-waster.
Still, it’s cheap and fun, and you can definitely learn a few things along
the way, useless and not so useless. Regardless, StumbleUpon is a great innovation
and a new favorite distraction.