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Surfin' Safari

Need to kill an hour? Innovative search engine infuses the Web with endless wonder again

"Search when you know just what you're looking for, stumble when you don't," advises a press release for fresh-out-of-beta "Web discovery service" StumbleUpon (stumbleupon.com). Not the catchiest catchphrase in marketing history, no, but with product as obscenely addictive as this, the marketers can afford to slack off a little. StumbleUpon adds an unobtrusive little button bar to your Firefox browser that, when clicked on, takes you to a random site already certified interesting by other StumbleUpon users. If you like it yourself, you can add your own thumbs-up to the list; if you don't, give it a thumbs-down. Either way, StumbleUpon takes note of your preference and makes itself that much less likely to ever show you a dud again. The more you stumble, the better the hits, till pretty soon you're tapping on that button like a lab monkey on a click-powered morphine drip.

It's a viral-marketing contagion waiting to happen, in other words, and with over 800,000 stumblers already at it, the epidemic appears to be well primed. The only thing those press release writers have to worry about, then, is making sure we don't realize that "Stumbling—the Latest Internet Rage" is really just a fine-tuned version of "Surfing—the Oldest Time-Waster in the Book." Web surfing is so 1995, after all, inseparable in our minds from a pre-Google age when search engines sucked and it didn't matter anyway: We were all such noobs that the Web itself was a source of endless wonder, no matter what crap it threw our way. But we're kidding ourselves if we think we're over the appeal of surfing's aimless drift. And if you don't believe me, give this thing a stumble yourself. You'll see; with a little help from your fellow surfers, the Web can be a source of endless wonder again.

 
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