As part of our special series on social media and investing, we take a look at the discovery engine and social network, StumbleUpon.
What is StumbleUpon?
StumbleUpon, founded in 2001, is primarily a discovery engine. Unlike search-based engines (such as Google), discovery engines are useful for when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. In a typical web search users provide terms that describe the topic they’re interested in and the search engine will do the rest. But what happens if you can’t put into words exactly what it is you’re looking for? You can use a discovery engine.
A discovery engine, such as StumbleUpon, will learn your preferences based on the kinds of content you deem relevant and serve related content to you. StumbleUpon uses a process known as “collaborative filtering” to combine your personal preferences with preferences and opinions of others when looking at the same content.
The idea behind collaborative filtering is that if two people have the same opinion on one issue, they are more likely to have the same opinion on a different issue compared to having the same opinion as a person chosen at random. For example, if you “like” something StumbleUpon serves you and it happens to be investor-oriented, StumbleUpon will then start serving you content that others have identified as being investor-oriented. The more the engine learns about what you kind of content you like, the better it can predict what other content you might find interesting and relevant.
Where does StumbleUpon get these human opinions from? The data the discovery engine uses to make content suggestions comes from fellow users of StumbleUpon. Users of StumbleUpon (known as “stumblers”) can rate content by giving it a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”, they can assign keyword tags they believe are relevant to the content and they can provide additional commentary if they want to describe it in more detail. The pages other StumbleUpon users have liked and any commentary they’ve left will show up on their profile. Similar to Tumblr or Pinterest (click to learn about Tumblr or here for Pinterest), users can follow the profiles of one another making StumbleUpon a social network. You can see what other people have liked and check those pages out as well.
Another way that you can view content through StumbleUpon is by putting in a key term or category in the search field called “Explore an interest”. This is where our experiment began.
There are many keywords and tags used in StumbleUpon to organize information. In this social media and investing experiment we wanted to see what kind of content we could find on StumbleUpon under the search term “investing”. We started with “investing” because it is a main topic on StumbleUpon. If you like a page that doesn’t already exist on StumbleUpon the engine asks you to assign a main topic to it before assigning tags you feel are relevant to the content. It’s important to note, however, that there are various sub topics related to investing that are suggested by the discovery engine during your exploration such as “investment, “socially responsible investing” and “value investing” just to name a few.
We also tried the keyword “trading” and found other suggestions such as “online trading” and “share trading”. These subtopics and suggestions give different results helping you discover more content online.
This is what we found for the keyword “investing”:
This is what we found for the keyword “trading”:
This is what we found for the phrase “stock market index”:
Each search brought back a variety of investing related content. Under “investing”, with the exception of a couple artistic photographs of trees, most of the results were related to investing and contained opinions from all over the web including major news networks like CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Fox Business. The more you scroll down the results page the more results get presented. Some providers can have a number of posts in StumbleUpon when users like their material. For example, we noticed that Mint.com has many posts on StumbleUpon meaning that many stumblers find their content helpful and so give it a thumbs up helping to spread it further.
This brings to mind some limitations when using a discovery engine such as StumbleUpon.
The first is that different people have different ideas on what constitutes investing. You may disagree with how some of the content you come across has been classified (for example the tree pictures above belonging to the investment category). If, however, the ‘majority’ decides something is related to investing, that is what the discovery engine will also associate with the word “investing”.
The second limitation is that some of the content is sponsored meaning a user or company has paid StumbleUpon to serve that content to you when you’re exploring a topic. The probability that this type of content is promoting something is high so be aware of what you’re reading, who the author is and what the intent is behind the article.
Finally as with any other source of information on trading and investing, remember that what you’re reading is simply someone’s opinion and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt.
StumbleUpon is a great way to discover content around a topic of interest like investing if you have no particular query in mind. It allows you to view content on the web that other users have found to be relevant and have liked. In other words, by using StumbleUpon you are consuming content that has been filtered specifically for you based on your preferences and has been approved by members of a community who share a common interest. Keep its limitations in mind when surfing to get the most out of the system. Stumbling is an adventure. See what you can discover.
Sources for Social Media and Investing – StumbleUpon