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StumbleUpon turned internet boredom into time well wasted

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An ode to a service that provided great entertainment for 16 years

DreamHack 2018 Gaming Festival In Leipzig Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

StumbleUpon is finally shutting down after 16 years, and with it an era of time well spent being bored on the internet.

The company’s founder announced in a Medium post this week that StumbleUpon will shut down on June 30. Active accounts will move over to Mix, a curation website from StumbleUpon creator, Garrett Camp, but the roulette discovery tool most of us used in the mid-‘00s will die.

It sucks.

Camp refers to StumbleUpon as a tool that “pioneered content discovery on the web, before the concepts of the ‘like button’, ‘news feed’ or ‘social media’ were mainstream.” He’s right. Before we relied on curated news feeds, Twitter lists, roundups and publications with dedicated internet reporters telling us about a cool new thing online, there was StumbleUpon. It was a window into the growing, weird and funniest parts of the internet; it was a chance to discover new games, comedians, websites, writers and artists. And it was designed for 99 percent of people who didn’t know what to do on the internet.

I like to think that I’m somewhat internet savvy. I grew up in front of a computer, watching videos on eBaums World and Newgrounds, posting in fan forums and looking for good goofs on You’re The Man Now, Dog (YTMND). There were a plethora of websites to visit. Still, I got bored. Maybe my favorite animators were going through dry spell, and uploads became infrequent. Maybe I just didn’t want to watch any of the videos I came across. I stared at everything in front of me, looking for something to curb my boredom in the same way I often open the fridge hoping to find some hidden treat I missed the last three times, and felt disappointed.

StumbleUpon cured that restlessness. There was always something new to see, read or play. Almost everything was interesting. StumbleUpon turned boredom into play. Now, we have Tumblr and YouTube, Twitch and Amino, Reddit and Discord. We have groups that we belong to, communities bonded over our love of some specific thing. We seek out these people for conversations and jokes, hoping they’ll post a new meme, video or website that will help cure the boredom we still face. Like eBaum’s World and You’re The Man Now, Dog, we have little corners of the internet that we flock to in hopes of discovering endless entertainment.

But we don’t really stumble upon anything anymore. We don’t really hear people saying, “I stumbled upon this cool website.” We hear, “I saw this retweeted into my timeline” or “someone posted this on Facebook,” but that secondhand joy doesn’t compare to the exhilarating feeling of finding a hidden gem on the internet and bookmarking it. That’s how I found Rollerboy 2 — a java game that I’ve been obsessed with since the early ‘00s. We don’t allow ourselves the time or curiosity to just stumble upon new discoveries anymore; we want everything hand fed to us so we don’t have to sway too far from Twitter.

I miss that period of turning boredom into fun. I still use StumbleUpon, because I still want to find those rare jewels in a heavily excavated space, but I don’t know many other people who do. Now, following Camp’s announcement, I can’t help think of Dan Nosowitz’s popular SelectAll piece about the internet being boring and failing to deliver upon the promise it served us as teens — of endless, fruitful, and distracting entertainment.

“...the internet stopped being something you went to in order to separate from the real world — from your job and your work and your obligations and responsibilities,” Norowitz wrote. “It’s not the place you seek to waste time, but the place you go to so that you’ll someday have time to waste.”

It’s more challenging to find time to waste on the internet as we become older. If you’re in media, it’s difficult to waste time on the internet and not think of ways to turn that into a story. StumbleUpon made “surfing the web” an easy, fun and guilt-free experience. Its death isn’t just saying goodbye to what feels like a bygone era of internet exploration, but bidding a final farewell to a time when curation didn’t dominate our online day-to-day.

We’re trying to beat boredom on the internet by returning to our favorite stomping grounds and hoping for the best. StumbleUpon knew better; the best way to be bored online is to embrace it, and enjoy stumbling upon just about anything and everything.