Over the past week I’ve noticed that I really only make use of a fraction of the internet. I have about 7 or 8 blogs I read regularly, a few more I read occasionally, some web comics, facebook, wikipedia, and the occasional search on google. For the most part I stay in a kiddie pool when I’ve got a whole sea I could be exploring.
At this point I’m guessing that a number of you are thinking, “Andrew, you must not know about StumbleUpon.” Well surprise, I do, and I have the tool bar installed on my browser, but I rarely use it? Why? Because I’ve found that the signal to noise ratio in the websites it passes up is way to low to be worth my effort.
Now I don’t think this is stumble’s fault. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s mine. If we open up my list of topics I’m signed up for over 30. Some of these I really have nothing more than a passing interest in. Ambient Music? Yeah maybe I own about two dozen songs. Drawing? I did that for maybe a year in high school. Photography? My college roommate was a wizard with a camera, but I don’t even own one.
I’ve fallen prey to something I’ve decided to call the “Over Section Bias.” The best analogy is the all you can eat buffet. We’ve all been there. You grab everything on your first pass, heaping the plate high. Before you know it you’re full, and you’ve barely got the energy for a second plate. If you do go back, you dab a tiny portion of your favorite dishes, and probably don’t even finish that. Hence the phrase my parents love to use, your eyes are bigger than you stomach.
The problem is that we tend not to focus on the costs of over selection. “Hey,” we think, “I’m not that into orange beef, but it’s not like it costs me anything to put it on the plate.” But it does cost us something to eat it since it takes up valuable stomach space that might be put to better use with some more of that General Tso’s chicken, or strange little fried objects of questionable composition.
With stumble upon the price is in what I’m calling “the clicking cost,” ie the cost of hitting the stumble button again when I get something uninteresting. On the surface this seems like a pretty insignificant cost. After all, we’re talking only just over a second for the page reload. Except there’s also the cost to skim a page and decide whether or not it’s actually interesting. Put these two together, and it’s not difficult to spend 20 minutes stumbling until you find something remotely interesting.
The biggest problem with this is I’m training my brain to be ADD. What I really want to stumble across is something that I can sink my teeth into, something that I can return to regularly and use to grow the space of the web I play in on a day to day basis. But instead, I become a clicking machine, stumbling away if I’m not grabbed within a minute of clicking.
What this means is that the things I actually spend time with on stumble upon, are the ones that I really wish I completely ignored. For example, one of the categories I have stumble set to serve me is “Online Games.” Big mistake. I start using stumble upon and boom suddenly four hours have gone by with me setting up turrents to destroy a horde of pixelated creatures (Do not click if you value your time). I go whatever gives my brain a quick fix of stimulation, instead of really helping me grow.
So today I’m going to try to fix that. I’m paring back my stumble topics list, committing myself to stop being an ADD stumbler, and am going to try to actually use the like dislike buttons. I’m hoping that maybe I can start getting something valuable out of this tool, and really make use of the vast space of stuff out there on the Net. Any suggestions you have about how to get the most out of my stumbling?