The Other Monkey in the Jungle

"If ya ain't Dugg, ya ain't got nothing." Digg, a popular social networking site, is the current brass ring of the Internet. Like Slashdot before it, if you want to drive attention, traffic and potential customers to your site, then the front page of Digg is your mother lode. This is doubly true for technology companies, because the early adopters and alpha users of these social news sites are geeks.

In fact, there's such a focus on Digg that there's a burgeoning industry of grey market companies and individuals dedicated to boosting your site onto that magical front page. Discussions of how to 'game' Digg--to artificially boost your site's chances of making the front page--prevail in cubicles across the country.

As it turns out, Digg isn't the only social news and bookmarking site that can drive big traffic to your online project. StumbleUpon is Digg's older, less nerdy brother. Launched in late 2001 as an add-on to Internet Explorer (long before Tim O'Reilly coined the term 'Web 2.0'), StumbleUpon is a recommendation engine for websites. You use the service to surf for compelling sites on topics that interest you ("I like dogs. Show me entertaining sites about dogs."), and then vote for or against them using a specialized toolbar in your browser.

Hundreds of Thousands of Infovores StumbleUpon claims to have 1.9 million users. We should be highly suspicious of that number--surely the number of active users is much smaller. Regardless, that's still hundreds of thousands of infovores--meme vectors that spread interesting finds to friends and family beyond social networks like Digg and StumbleUpon.

But practically speaking, how powerful is StumbleUpon, and how does it compare with Digg? Having created the satire sites iCryptex.com and GetaFirstLife.com, I've been able to see and compare Digg and StumbleUpon in action.

I previously used iCryptex.com as a case study for an article I wrote about memes. That article features a diagram showing sites that linked to iCryptex after four weeks. At that stage, StumbleUpon is just barely the top ranked referrer. iCryptex never made it to the front page of Digg, but it was cited by some very popular Apple blogs.

This chart shows the top referrers for iCryptex.com after one week:

Compare the one month chart to this one, which shows referrers to iCryptex after six months.

StumbleUpon is clearly the gift that keeps on giving.

A Jungle Full of Kongs How does StumbleUpon compare to the jackpot that is Digg? I created GetaFirstLife.com, and it was included in StumbleUpon and made the front page of Digg within 12 hours of the site's launch. It subsequently got referenced by two other traffic juggernauts--Boing Boing and TechCrunch. What do the numbers look like after the first week?

It's worth noting the significant traffic from Reddit, another 'also-ran' in the social bookmarking space. It's been about a month and a half, and here's what those numbers look like today:

After that first flush of traffic, the other top sites contributed only the slightest trickle of visitors. On the other hand, StumbleUpon is well on its way to doubling its one-week visitor totals and surpassing the other mega-sites. In the past week, StumbleUpon sent 311 visitors to GetaFirstLife.com. The other four sites only delivered 157 visitors combined. Digg sent 20.

All Visitors Are Not Equal Earlier I called StumbleUpon visitors 'infovores'. That's true--they're definitely greater consumers of online information than the average person.

In shopping terms, the StumbleUpon user is browing while the Digg user is a buying. The very name and nature of StumbleUpon suggests a more casual, serendipitous relationship with the Web than the average voracious (and sometimes downright snippy) Digg user. There's no way to compare the broader (and no doubt greater) echo effect of Digg with that of StumbleUpon. Digg readers are likelier to be bloggers, podcasters and journalists, and they're likelier to be influencers in the technology industry.

On the other hand, StumbleUpon has far broader categorization of bookmarks. If your organization or project doesn't fit into the highly prescriptive taxonomy that Digg offers, you're out of luck. If you're after evangelical Christians or cat-lovers (or links that interest them), you'll have a hard time finding them on Digg.

At Gnomedex last summer, people kept referring to 800-pound gorillas like Delicious and Digg. At the time I pointed out that instead of one big gorilla, maybe we needed 100 eight-pound orangutans. I failed zoology, because orangutans can weigh up to 175 lb. Based on the anecdotal evidence, though, it looks like StumbleUpon has been eating its fill of bananas. While Digg gets most of the attention these days, it's easy to forget that there are other primates in the jungle.

Thanks to Travis, James, Monique, Julie and Boris who reviewed this article in its first draft form and provided valuable feedback.

Tags: stumbleupon digg social+bookmarking online+marketing