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ISSUE 121 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/12/2007

'Stumble' makes time wasting easy

By Cody Venzke
Variety Editor


Friday, October 12, 2007

We all know the symptoms because we've all had the disease. The scenario is all too familiar for many of us. It's a Wednesday night, you've had two, three, maybe four classes and after a long, hard afternoon of ultimate frisbee it's time to do a little studying, or a little paper writing. After 20 minutes or so of hard typing, you figure you deserve a little break.

You did, after all, just write an impeccable introduction to your psychology paper with a stellar thesis. Your professor will be so impressed when you get this thing done. Truly, you have more than earned that break.

So, you reward yourself with a quick peek at what's new on some social-networking website -- Facebook, for example. Just a quick look. Really, a quick update on everybody's relationship status can't hurt anything, can it?

Two hours and 18 minutes later, you realize just how desperate you've made the situation. It's almost 1 a.m. and all you've managed to do tonight is write this piecemeal introduction to your psychology paper. You'll be lucky if your professor doesn't laugh at you. (Things don't look so bright now, do they?)

Although the Facebook epidemic is bad, it may not be the worst procrastination tool out there. That's right, there's a worse disease yet, one with more potential to delay your homework, kill your GPA, ruin your social life and deliver every bit of garbage on the Internet to your delighted fingertips. Intrigued? Of course you are. Welcome to the world of StumbleUpon.

The idea behind the StumbleUpon program is pretty revolutionary. By going to www.stumbleupon.com, you can download a toolbar for either Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. Once you have placed the StumbleUpon toolbar in an appropriately distracting place in your web browser, clicking a single button will generate a random website.

There is, however, more to StumbleUpon than that. That program's creators have meticulous compartmentalized much of the Internet into 15 major categories, each with numerous subcategories - altogether, StumbleUpon recognizes more than 500 fields of interest. Users may then select from which categories they would like the toolbar to produce websites. Fields of interest include everything from tattoos and genetics to canoeing and erotic literature.

To put it simply, StumbleUpon is every distraction for which you could ever hope. Not quite up to doing your biology homework? Excellent. StumbleUpon can provide provided pages upon pages of graffiti art to remedy that. Think calculus is a bit boring? Wonderful. Stumble can turn up more than enough literature, videos and games to keep you occupied.

Your distractions, however, are not a solitary task. Discovery and procrastination, after all, are best done as a group. Because of this simple fact of life, StumbleUpon has been designed as a community activity. Users may give any website they visit a thumbs up or a thumbs down. If the site is given a thumbs up, it is entered into StumbleUpon's central database, where it is shared with other users. A positive rating also gives the site a boost in StumbleUpon's directory -- users with similar interests will be more likely to see a page that has numerous thumbs up ratings. In this sense, StumbleUpon is a group effort to seek out and cherish the best of the web.

StumbleUpon provides other opportunities for fellow stumblers as well. A brief foray on to the programs website reveals the vast troves of material that await users -- all discovered and rated by members of the online community. The home page features users' most popular websites -- links often include photography, animations, video games, science experiments (yes, I said science experiments) and humor.

Occasionally, one may stroll across such treasures as photos of lost cities, slipped speech in court or an e-mail message from God. (Again, as I said: an e-mail message from God.)

The "People" tab at the top of the website provides another great way to connect with other users. Here, one can discover other users in the same geographic area or those who share similar interests. The online community is certainly one of the best and most distracting features of StumbleUpon.

Despite the wonders of the web that StumbleUpon may reveal, it does pose a serious threat as a time waster. Unlike Facebook, which requires such arduous tasks as logging in and sifting through the news feed, StumbleUpon is always available.

Lurking in its toolbar at the top of your browser, StumbleUpon tempts even the most ardent of students. Although one may try to resist the allure of which random website awaits, sheer will power may not be enough. It may be more effective to hide the StumbleUpon toolbar or simply to use another browser all together. Regardless of your method, be aware: the addiction is dangerous.

Ultimately, StumbleUpon requires a careful mix of self-control as well as self-indulgence. Although you should probably get some work done and occasionally even eat, this terrible tool does open doors -- it may well reveal corners of the Internet that you weren't even aware of.

Sometimes the best way to discover new websites, new possibilities and even new experiences is to just relax and explore. And StumbleUpon is designed just for that: to find something new. So take advantage of that semi-fast St. Olaf connection. The entire world lies at your finger tips now -- happy stumbling.





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