Is StumbleUpon better than Google?

StumbleUpon — the social app that lets you randomly click your way through the Web, or through a particular subject area, and then vote for the sites you hit — has launched an expansion of its SearchReviews feature, which has actually been around for awhile. As a dedicated user of StumbleUpon (and not just because Garett Camp and his co-founders are Canadian), I’ve been seeing it for some time: when I search in Google, certain links have StumbleUpon logos beside them and a ranking expressed as a number of stars.

There’s more detail on the announcement at TechCrunch, as well as Search Engine Journal and GigaOm, but the post that got me thinking was by Paul Glazowski at Profy. Paul’s point is a good one: When you search, the new StumbleUpon feature gives you the top-ranked sites as voted on by the clicks and rankings of its 3.7 million or so users. In other words, it gives you what the “crowd” thinks is the best site. But doesn’t Google already do this? Isn’t Google’s PageRank algorithm just a similar kind of crowdsourcing model?

If that’s the case, then what’s the benefit of StumbleUpon? I think one significant benefit is that StumbleUpon’s “social search” involves sites that are ranked by people, not by an algorithm; and it sorts them based on the actual votes of actual people, not based on manufactured link-farms that are designed by black-hat SEO artists. In other words, the spam level is virtually zero.

Not that I think Google should be scared of someone like StumbleUpon piggybacking on its results and trying to add value to them. But Jason Calacanis and Mahalo.com might be a little nervous, since people-powered search is their game. Incidentally, as I have mentioned before and others have noticed as well, StumbleUpon routinely drives more traffic than Digg.com.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.