On Tuesday night StumbleUpon is changing the way users interact with the service, ditching the need for a software-based browser toolbar in place of a small frame that loads on top of the Web site you're on. Users with the toolbar installed will still be getting the same experience, but the idea is that anyone can begin stumbling without having to install anything.
To get the Web toolbar to show up in the first place, users must now begin their stumbling experience from the StumbleUpon home page. The site is now broken up into categories. Once you've clicked on a link the experience begins, with the persistent toolbar following you from site to site and keeping track of your ratings to provide you with new stumbles.
Earlier this week, StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp told me this was an idea that had been kicked around the office for years--six in fact, and the only reason it hadn't happened sooner is that Camp and others felt it would diminish the number of people who were populating the service with rated content. That number is still staggering, with more than 35,000 new URLs submitted every day by 6 million registered users. Camp hopes this new install and registration-free solution will make those numbers even larger, and improve some of the uptake as people get to try the service without that first hurdle.
In addition to its exploratory angle, StumbleUpon is introducing a new partner program. Sites that have StumbleUpon installed will be able to offer their users a new "Stumble This" button with a counter on it. When a user clicks this it adds to the number, which can help promote it for other StumbleUpon members. It's also got an option right underneath the counter that lets users jump to another piece of related content, something Camp says should drive traffic to other existing posts. It's worth noting this is different from the previously existing StumbleThru feature, which would do this randomly.
The partner program is launching on four sites Tuesday night, including political blogging network The Huffington Post, HowStuffWorks, Rolling Stone online, and National Geographic. Of the four, Rolling Stone and National Geographic are the most interesting, as users will be able to explore the photo archives with the service's recommendation engine. Like service Photoree, which we checked out back in August, this can be a fun and engaging experience.
Camp says there are 10 other partnerships in the works, including several for video and music content. Eventually the system will be open for anyone to place it on their blog, although Camp says the system needs to be fine-tuned before it's ready for that.
The future of StumbleUpon
When I asked Camp for comment on the rumored sale of StumbleUpon from parent company eBay, he said he "couldn't talk about any rumors." However, what's interesting is that this new system could be ported over to eBay, or any other product site, which is something many were expecting when the company was acquired last year. "This does open us up," he said. "We're a lot more media focused, and this would allow us to do product discovery."
Presumably with such a system in place you could jump around the site and discover new products while rating them at the same time--something the auction site does not currently provide. Camp says StumbleUpon might one day provide that, but for now he says that realm has already been covered pretty well by search. "(We're) more interested in doing media stuff. There's a greater need for discovery than products right now."
The new StumbleUpon.com should be available right now. Camp says user profiles, reviews, and friends lists will get updated to match the new style in the coming weeks.