Nostalgia is unmistakably powerful. Just ask anyone who loved StumbleUpon. We did that a few times this morning: “Remember StumbleUpon?” Everyone’s face lit up a little. We remembered. And we stumbled again–perhaps for the last time. After 16 years, the site will be shutting down at the end of June.
StumbleUpon was once one of the most powerful websites online–for marketers and web surfers alike. And it was truly from a time when the surfing analogy made sense. After you pressed the Stumble button, you really would be taken for a ride. Press it again, and the next wave of content discovery would wash over you.
According to co-founder and current majority owner Garrett Camp, StumbleUpon is responsible for 60 billion such rides by 40 million users. What’s even more staggering is just how big its share of social referral traffic once was. Just look at the data put out by Statcounter.
The humble StumbleUpon site with its browser toolbars and somewhat clunky web interface, neither of which ever really caught on with Gen Z, was widely thought to be the leader in referral traffic online just seven years ago, consistently referring more traffic than every non-Facebook social site combined. But follow the trend further, and you get this:
With the rise of Pinterest came the slow death of StumbleUpon. Users left for a variety of reasons. Reddit and Tumblr offered better community and lower tolerance for old or duplicate content. Pinterest made it easier to save inspiring images and recipes, categorize them, and come back later. Twitter slowly found its place as the go-to site for answering the question: “What’s Happening?” After years of others differentiating themselves, StumbleUpon was lost in “no man’s land.” Its sole differentiation was the one-click journey, and users found it addictive in all the wrong ways, often complaining of lost sleep once they started their journeys.
Unlike others, StumbleUpon’s design meant that you didn’t spend much time on its own site–or any one site for that matter. You rode a wave into a web page and eventually rode a wave out. The site monetized brilliantly, allowing advertisers to buy paid stumbles that looked almost exactly like other stumbles. If your content was a fit, it could be a hit. However, due to the allure of the Stumble button, users often failed to visit a second page on your site. And that meant that advertisers saw high bounce rates, and, due to a common misunderstanding in how session duration is calculated, returns as measured by session duration looked meager.
Nowadays, Facebook reigns supreme in the traffic referral charts and for ad-buying on social as well. Twitter is a clear runner-up for most brands. While LinkedIn may not refer tons of traffic, many brands understand the premium they receive there. Meanwhile, it’s still hard to figure out how to run a successful ad on many sites that directly competed with StumbleUpon; Reddit and Tumblr are minefields for advertisers, and Pinterest is only a great fit in select verticals.
Garrett Camp would like the death of StumbleUpon to invigorate his new project: Mix.com. We bet it will at least make more of a splash than Ello and Vero. And maybe, just maybe, it will offer a clear differentiation to users and a clear value to brands.
Regardless, RIP, StumbleUpon. We’ll miss your glory days.