Katie Gray

While sites such as Bing and Google are marketing ways to make Internet browsing more specific, a popular website is capitalizing on the fun of surfing the Web.

StumbleUpon.com caters to users’ interests by providing pages related to preselected topics. In an effort to further expand their popularity among college students, the site has launched its Stumble to Spring Break challenge, in which students get people signed up on the site to compete for up to $5,000 for a Spring Break trip.

Mathematics junior Justin Larkins said he “fell in love” with the site shortly after his first visit more than three years ago. He said he found the contest one day while using the site and formed UT’s team, “The Others.”

“For all of us, StumbleUpon has been something we’ve been using for a long time, and which has always been there ready to somehow send us somewhere which brightens our day,” Larkins said. “If I’m ever feeling down or bored or just want to spin the wheel of chance, I ‘stumble’ and everything becomes right.”

Andrew Dillon, dean of the School of Information, said sites such as Google yield results to user searches with no explanation as to why Internet users often have to wade though links of no interest to them.

“Given the explosion of information available to anyone with a browser, new and improved tools for supporting navigation and personalization of interest are demanded by users,”
Dillon said.

Dillon said he can not say exactly how much more useful StumbleUpon may be than similar tools but he anticipates many other sites with similar strategies to offer users content based on their preferences.

“The promise is that it will learn your interests and preferences quickly by simple up/down ratings you provide and similarly find people who share your tastes,” he said.

StumbleUpon spokeswoman Katie Gray said the contest is the foundation of what she hopes will be a long-term effort to market the company.

“We are in the process of creating an ambassadors program, so we are hoping the contest will grow into a more permanent position,” she said.

Students participating in the ambassadors program will be paid promoters for the company and market the site by distributing merchandise with the site’s logo to help spread the word.

Gray credits the recent rise in popularity to the company’s 2009 branch-off from former owners.

“We struck out on our own and started up again,” she said. “We now only have about 60 employees, so it’s an exciting time to be here.”

The site, which was launched in 2001, now has more than 12 million users and anticipates more followers after the contest, which ends on March 1. More than 63 teams are currently participating in the contest, including two teams of UT students.