How StumbleUpon Makes Sharing Easy and Fun

From my weekly newsletter. Subscribe by filling in the box to the right.

According to my e-mail service provider’s reports, a lot of subscribers to my newsletter skip my opening essay each week and going directly to a little item called “Just for Fun” that I include in every newsletter. Just For Fun is a link to a funny, offbeat or just plain bizarre item that I find on the Web.

It may look like I spend hours each week looking for source material, but my real secret is StumbleUpon, which is a popular example of the new breed of social bookmarking sites.
Social bookmarking is one of the hottest group activities on the Internet, and it’s capable of driving enormous amounts of traffic if your site is lucky enough to be selected. Over the next couple of issues of my newsletter, I’ll look at some of the more popular bookmarking sites and explain how they work. Although I caution against relying on raw traffic stats as an indicator of success, I recommend you make social bookmarking a staple of your promotion efforts.

Bookmarks have been around since the early stays of the Internet, having been included in the earliest browsers. Bookmarks are an easy way to keep track of information you’ve seen and want to return to, but as a standalone tool, they’re not very interesting.

Where they do get interesting is when you share your bookmarks with others. As I pointed out in an earlier newsletter, social bookmarking is kind of a human-powered search engine. As more and more people bookmark and comment upon the same content, a richer description of the content emerges. Also, web pages with a lot of votes can rise up the popularity stack, making them more prominent and more useful to interested people. Social bookmarking sites aren’t nearly as exhaustive as search engine indexes, but every single entry has been vetted by a person.

StumbleUpon is one of my favorite examples of this genre. Once you become a member, you can install the StumbleUpon toolbar and immediately begin flagging interesting sites. Your selections and descriptions go into a common area where others can see what you chose and why. As others vote for the same sites, those selections rise in the StumbleUpon hierarchy.As a user, you can subscribe to stumbled sites by category. When you click the “Stumble!” button in the toolbar, you automatically go to a random site that has been selected by other members. Sites that have been favorably reviewed more often are more likely to turn up in your random “stumblings.”

It’s perfectly OK to stumble upon your own site. This isn’t gaming the system, because your selection only becomes important if other people vote for you as well. If nobody else finds your page interesting, nothing much will happen, but if you attract enough interest you can draw an astonishing amount of traffic.

I found this out myself recently when I stumbled upon an entry in a blog I maintain called Newspaper Death Watch. Apparently some other people liked my selection. That blog, which normally gets about 100 visitors a day, received more than 1,200 visitors in one day, nearly all of them from StumbleUpon.

Not surprisingly, most of those visitors came and left in just a few seconds. But a few of them did stick around and the site’s average traffic levels increased about 20% after that one incident. This was hardly a make-or-break event, but it’s one indication of how social bookmarking can quickly generate a lot of visibility for your website.

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