For those who haven’t stumbled yet or have no idea what it is, StumbleUpon is a discovery engine that finds and recommends content on the web to its users. Users are able to discover and rate web pages, photos, and videos based on their preferences and their followers.

StumbleUpon is more like watching TV and flipping through the channels, you have a little control over what content topics pop up, but for the most part you keep clicking until you see something you like. The service serves as a virtual community to connect like-minded web surfers.

How it All Started…

StumbleUpon was founded in 2001 when two grad students at the University of Calgary started it as a college project. Around 50 people joined the service and started discovering, however, with graduation looming, the founders of this start-up had to make a tough decision: continue stumbling along this journey or work for an established firm. At that point, the founders decided to look for funding the project and pursue their dreams. They found investors and put together $1.5 million to fund StumbleUpon.

Later in 2007, the start-up was bought by eBay for $75 million until 2009 where it was bought back by its previous founders and investors.

…And Where It Is Now

When it was first discovered by CEO Garret Camp and co-founder Geoff Smith, the service had no social features other than the ability to “subscribe to,” or follow friends. However, StumbleUpon rapidly started developing new features. Now users can rate a site by giving it thumbs up or thumbs down and leave comments on the site’s review page.

The company has released a mobile app that increases their user base by 40% every month. Other additions included an Android app discovery feature, integrated third-party support into its video feature and a URL shortener for content publishers.

In the settings, users are able to filter the type of web pages they want to appear based on their interests. So if you only want to watch videos or take quizzes, you can update your settings and choose what you want to see.

Big Question: How does StumbleUpon Make Money?

Like most social networks, advertising plays a major role in StumbleUpon’s ROI. StumbleUpon’s ad system is called Paid Discovery in which an advertiser’s URL becomes part of the stream while the user is stumbling to sites. Users are notified when they stumble upon a paid page by seeing a green icon or “sponsored.”

Tips for Marketers

Since StumbleUpon has a wide range of users, there is no doubt that the discovery engine can increase your web traffic tenfold. The key is to focus on the quality over the quantity of stumbles and to get involved in the community enthusiastically.

As marketers, we always have a message to send and StumbleUpon serves as the best vehicle to transmit what we want to share. However, just like other social networks, focusing on yourself will get you nothing but failure.

To convert the relationship into more than a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, place RSS subscription buttons on the page you’re promoting. People who want to see more of your content can subscribe and get exposed to your brand message again in the future.

Whether you’re a marketer or just a user interested in browsing the web all at once, StumbleUpon has a lot to offer and will continue to grow. Yes, content is king, but with zero distribution you’ll be wasting all your efforts. Are you ready to start exploring?