The closing session for the first day of SMX Social Media is a keynote conversation with Joshua Schachter of del.icio.us & Garrett Camp of StumbleUpon. We’re going to learn more about the landscape and future of social networking.
Garrett is up first. He cofounded StumbleUpon six years ago. For the first four years, they were based in Canada, then moved to the company to Silicon Valley. The company was recently bought by eBay. Danny mentioned a NY Times quote that said just because people stop watching TV in favor being on their computers, they aren’t going to stop channel surfing. Garrett talks a little about how StumbleUpon learns from what you like and recommends pages that are useful to you.
Joshua is up next and Danny notes that Del.icio.us was sold to Yahoo in 2005 (it was founded in 2003). Users have manually bookmarked things 100 million times. Joshua notes that it’s hard to find things after you initially discover them. He initially started Del.icio.us for personal use but found that people came to read what he had bookmarked, so he built out the sharing functions and things took off from there. He notes that he gets a popup when one of his friends saves something and wow, I had no idea Del.icio.us could work like that. Creepy, er, I mean cool!
Mostly this session will be questions. Danny wants to know about tagging usage and spamming. Joshua says that with tagging, “I find this interesting” and “I want you to find this interesting” look similar. But both he and Garrett say that they aren’t so much into spamming as a usage of their system. Garrett says that content stands on its merits. If it’s good content, it’ll get voted up; if it’s bad content, then the community will vote it down.
What about the challenges of being acquired by a large company? Joshua says they have 3 million users and that scale alone is challenging. He thinks he couldn’t have scaled to meet the needs of so many without the support and infrastructure of Yahoo. Garrett says they are staying very independent, the team and culture has remained the same, and eBay is mostly there for support.
How about actively vs. passively seeking? Joshua says search hasn’t changed much in a while and social meta data might be a way to evolve things. The strong partnership with Yahoo search means they can explore this a bit more. Garrett says StumbleUpon data is pretty clean — you have clear signals of pages being voted up or down. You don’t have the noise of the entire web like you do with major search engines. They don’t concern themselves with the entire web — just the top items people are voting for.
Any changes to StumbleUpon with the acquisition? Garrett says not so far. They have a different business model, their own team, and independence. What are they gaining with being acquired? Have their end goals changed? Both say they have additional funding, technology, scale with the new parent companies. Del.icio.us says they had just about maxed about before the acquisition and now has lots of resources, access to engineers who have experience with scale, and a customer support team. He says Yahoo hasn’t changed their direction or goals.
How was it that StumbleUpon took off? Garrett says the move to San Francisco made a big difference. They hadn’t hit critical mass before and that move helped them get involved with influencers. People became aware of them and they got more attention. Firefox also made a difference. Joshua notes that both teams worked for years before getting attention and it was really all that work that is being rewarded now.
How did they know they were on the right track? Garrett says he built it for himself. He wanted to browse sometimes — not only search. Once he had a remote control for the Internet, he thought others might like it also. Joshua also built Del.icio.us based on what he needed. As the engineer and the user, you learn about what works fairly quickly.
It is harder to implement things now, being owned by a large company? Joshua thinks dealing with a larger scale is what slows things down. When you have 10,000 users, you can experiment and break things. When you have 3 million users, you need a testing cycle.
Garrett agrees that when you have tons of users, you can’t just spring things on them. You need testing and documentation and usability research. The current redesign was first tested on a beta group of 800 people, who gave them feedback and helped them fine tune it.
If you believe in collective memory and collective voting, why nofollow links? Because they are trying to discourage spam. Danny wonders if it actually is a deterrent. They say yes. And if they could eliminate spam other ways would they get rid of the nofollow? They said maybe, but they think that having nofollow keeps away the motivation for spamming.
Joshua notes that with the flexible tagging, people can build add ons that he never intended and he uses those types of things to figure out what features to add next. For instance, lots of people use the tag “to read” to keep a list of what to read later. Garrett says they are looking to potentially make an API available so developers can create new things.
Are they looking to get more into social networking a la Facebook? Joshua says Del.icio.us wants to stay lightweight. They may add a bit of work groups and things, but don’t plan to be Facebook. Garrett thinks StumbleUpon is in between Del.icio.us and Facebook regarding social networking. They do plan to add social features, but keep them content-focused.
What about StumbleUpon’s pay features? Garrett says they’ve only launched some early features and that it’s been promising, so they’re definitely planning more. They are planning on offering more feedback about ads based on user behavior to help advertisers for instance. What about user feedback? Are they all irritated? No, since the ads are reviewed manually, the pages are relevant to the user and aren’t obtrusive. Less than 1 and 20 stumbles are paid and they plan to keep it at low volume.
Neil wants to know why Del.icio.us locks up if you have too many friends. Joshua says that’s being fixed in the next version. Neil says he’s excited to use Del.icio.us again. Joshua seems very pleased about that thought.
If someone pays to be added to StumbleUpon and it gets a bunch of positive votes, will those votes still count and keep the page popular once payment runs out?: Sure, if people like the page, it will start to rank naturally as well. You only pay for pages served through the ad system.
Is the StumbleUpon home page going to be refreshed more often? It seems kind of stale. Garrett says yes, it’s just that it’s not the main priority since most users get to content through the toolbar. And it’ll take some work to get algorithms in place to get fresh, relevant content going on the home page.
Joshua and Garrett have both gone from private lives to public lives. And with social bookmarking like this, some people are hesitant to reveal even the sites they are bookmarking in public. How do they feel about privacy? Joshua says people need to learn about privacy online, decide what they want to be public, and no how to keep online behavior private (with Del.icio.us, you can make bookmarks private). He says the downside to all of this is less privacy. The upside is that you can aggregate knowledge of many people. Is it worth the trade off? That’s up to the individual. And if you really care about privacy, don’t put information online. (I’ve thought a little about this online privacy thing before. It’s a conundrum.) He says that people have written in to complain that their bookmarks are public and he thinks, well, it is called “social bookmarking.”
Garrett notes that some people want levels of sharing and Joshua says this is good in that otherwise some people might not share at all, but on the other hand, if you make things too complicated, people won’t use them. Garrett says most people choose to share their stumbles.
Have they thought about unified profiles across social bookmarks? Well, Joshua says they don’t have a lot of sites exactly like them who they could integrate with. In fact, Yahoo MyWeb is their biggest competitor. Hey, that’s right. What’s up with that?
Tamar would like to star things she stumbles. I think Joshua might be thinking that she should just save it to Del.icio.us. Not that I’m trying to start a Xander and Harmony style Buffy fight with the two panelists or anything. OK, maybe.
All in all, a day chock full of social media tidbits. More social media goodness and live blogging tomorrow.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.