StumbleUpon, the venerable ‘discovery engine’ that’s been helping us find and enjoy relevant content for the past decade, has had a makeover. It’s the latest in a wave of web platforms to be affected by Pinterest-ification, the move away from traditional, vertical-scrolling layouts and toward a more design-focused and less-linear approach.
Like a lot of its peers, StumbleUpon lets you choose interests, integrate with Facebook and ‘like’ pages (this helps the site create your personalised ‘filter bubble‘– a phenomenon I wrote about last week). But here’s where StumbleUpon sets itself apart. After choosing your interests, the website directs you to the aptly named ‘stumble!’ button, essentially a random switch.
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As I continued to click and stumble (sorry) my way through StumbleUpon’s new interface, I realised I’d been at it for nearly an hour. I’d never used StumbleUpon for this long, so what’s changed?
In a (horribly contrived) word: Pinterest-ification. If it weren’t for Pinterest, the original tile-based social platform, StumbleUpon in its current (and more enjoyable) form wouldn’t exist. Nor would Dudepins, weddinggawker or WeHeartIt (tile-based sites for men, bridezillas and teeny-boppers respectively).
But what’s so great about Pinterest that it has inspired so many imitators? It’s all in the design. Pinterest adapts to your browser width, displaying as many columns of aesthetically pleasing tiles as can comfortably fit in your window. It’s an endless feed of content, presented in a digestible and attractive package. Erin Griffith at PandoDaily describes it as ‘the opposite of the elitist, perfectly edited women’s magazine’.
The tile layout means the focus is switched from traditional blogging pillars like headlines and dates to the actual content. When your eyes roam not just vertically, but horizontally and diagonally too, you take in more.
The Pinterest-ification of the web has even inspired social media royalty. Medium, the new project from Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, bears more than a passing resemblance to Pinterest but with a focus on your own life. We can even see Pinterest’s influence in Facebook‘s Timeline and photo galleries.
Of course StumbleUpon and Pinterest are a marriage made in heaven. Both sites effectively ‘curate’ content rather than ‘create’ it – they actively rely on their users sharing other people’s content, be it images in the case of Pinterest or websites in the case of StumbleUpon.
And they’re not the only ones at this game: Tumblr is another visually driven platform that relies heavily on content sharing (‘re-blogging’ in Tumblr parlance). These reflect the way the web is changing. According to the GlobalWebIndex report in 2011, we’re now in the age of ‘social entertainment’; we’re as hungry for content as ever, but we don’t want to invest too much of our precious time either creating it, or digesting it. It’s online fast food, cheap thrills for the instant-gratification generation.
Don’t think I’m making a value judgment here – I find the web endlessly fascinating and I’m wondering just like the rest of us where we go next. Perhaps, where Pinterest ends (content and a simple mechanism for collating images), emulators like Medium will pick up, providing more context and information that just might help us slow down and appreciate what we’re consuming.
And remember, a picture might speak a thousand words, but sometimes you really want to READ those thousand words – after all, if you didn’t I’d be out of a job!
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.