Stumpedia: Yet Another Human-Powered Search Engine

Google seems to hold a lock on the search space, but many of us still come up empty-handed from time to time when we search. It’s enough to keep us looking for a better search engine, or at least one that goes about the whole business differently. Stumpedia offers a big difference: no bots, no spiders, no algorithms, just users entering links and voting them up or down.

Stumpedia CEO Luis Pereira likes to differentiate his human-powered search engine from the others that are out there. “Stumpedia is a social search engine that relies on human participation to index, organize, and review the world wide web. Unlike Mahalo and Wikia Search, Stumpedia is not a content producer or provider and as such does not host any content pages. Furthermore, unlike traditional search engines we do not use bots or crawlers,” he explained in an e-mail to me.

Launched in February 2008, the site features a blog, as you would expect for any good Web 2.0 company. As of the time of this writing (late March 2009), it boasted 45,019 members, 16, 761 links, and more than 40,000 search terms. Just looking at those numbers, my first inclination would still be to take my searches to Google.

On top of that, I’m not so sure that what Stumpedia offers is as unique as Pereira claims. For example, Searchles allows its users to submit links with keywords, and offers a rating system that any member can use to vote particular links up or down. For that matter, offers a place to store links where other users can rate them, and gives you the option of keeping your links private. Delicious has been around since 2003, and according to Wikipeda, it has more than five million users and more than 150 million bookmarked URLs.

So naturally, I have to wonder what I can get with Stumpedia that I can’t get anywhere else. Good ideas are still good ideas, but if they’ve already been executed better, do we need yet another search engine that claims to be different but isn’t? Or worse, one that claims to be different and better, but isn’t? That’s what I aim to find out today.

{mospagebreak title=What is Stumpedia About?}

You’ve already seen their logo on the previous page, so I’ll just show you the rest of Stumpedia’s home page:

Now I’ll take it apart for you. The display on the left-hand side, which is constantly updated, features new links and new searches. You can also click on links that will take you to activity in the past 24 hours, seven days, 30 days, or 365 days. The images on the right are user avatars. The “Submit” button I’ll detail a little later. Not shown, across the top, are links for Points, Buttons (for displaying the Stumpedia button on your web pages to make it easy for users to submit you), Bookmarklets, the About Us page, and the expected Home, Login and Sign up links.

It’s the links across the bottom that confused me. There’s one in the middle that’s labeled “The Corporation.” When I clicked that, I wasn’t taken to further corporate information about Stumpedia; instead, I landed on what appeared to be a page promoting a direct-to-DVD movie. Say what? The “Follow us on Twitter!” link was at least related to Stumpedia, and I got the impression that InverSearch (far left) was a service that the company is offering, but the rest of the links didn’t seem directly related to the company at all.

I understand why a search engine would be interested in net neutrality issues, and it’s probably convenient for Stumpedia’s users to include a link to the BBC on the home page. I’m just not convinced that this is the best way to project a professional image. If you’re building a site like this, there are several approaches you can take. You can present a bare bones home page, like Google. You can provide a stream of updates on what’s being added, like Delicious (and to Stumpedia’s credit, it does, as one of the features of the page). You can even do a variation of the portal route. But those links on the bottom, for the most part, just don’t fit in with the theme of the rest of the site.

I found out later, not too surprisingly, that they’re paid ads. But they  can present a confusing experience to users, unless Stumpedia explains in some way why they’re there (and frankly, it took me a while to find the explanation). Fortunately, when I most recently checked the site, I discovered those links had been removed. Apparently Stumpedia has found some other income stream.

{mospagebreak title=Searching Stumpedia}

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that SEOs have discovered this site and added links accordingly. Here’s a screen shot (cropped and shrunk to fit, of course) of what I saw when I searched for search engine optimization:

Okay, reading the image for you, Stumpedia returned 77 results. All seem to be web pages, with no images, news items, or video. There’s a text box that lets you submit a URL for this search. There are also links to related searches. You can sort results by most recent, thumbs up, thumbs down, and something called “social rank.” While this is not explained, clicking on this link seemed to rearrange the results with a heavy emphasis on blog-related and social sites (the first result was a Squidoo page).

Links associated with the results let you read the profile of the person who submitted the URL; report the link; post a comment about the links; share the link; and more. To do these things, you must be a member, though the options are still displayed for you even if you aren’t. Likewise, you can’t vote a link up or down until you’ve signed up or logged in.

I’m going to do that in just a moment myself, but before I do, I want to draw your attention to the top site: The site was submitted by SwamiSEO (in other words, the business owner). It has 75 thumbs up and six thumbs down, more votes than the site in the number two position by at least an order of magnitude. When I went to the site, it was touting its guarantee of a top 10 position in Google. Oh really? I know enough about SEO to know that anyone who offers that kind of guarantee is probably lying. In general, while the site might have been legitimate, the smell of spam was strong. To me, this is evidence that Stumpedia doesn’t police its site quite enough.

{mospagebreak title=Signing Up and Submitting}

Creating an account is simple. Stumpedia asks for an email address and username, and then challenges you with a captcha. Click “register” and an email is sent to you so you can complete the process. The box in which you submitted your information doesn’t close automatically, however, which seems a little odd for something that appears to be AJAX-powered.

This is the first time I’ve registered for a web site that forced you to handle the creation of a password as a separate step; I created my password by clicking on the link in my email, which took me to a page on the Stumpedia site. After I completed the process, I received the message that my password had been successfully changed. That’s a little odd, considering I didn’t have a password to begin with.

Once I registered, I saw a lot more links on the Stumpedia home page. Added links included Profile, Change Password, Invite Friends, and Logout (top right). A Profile link showed up just under the Stumpedia logo, too, as well as MyVotes, MyActivities, MyBookmarks, MyFriends, and MyDeletions. Now it’s time for me to see what I can do.

The Profile is pretty simple; it asks for your sex, birthday, location, description and a personal photo. It doesn’t look like anything is absolutely required, however. Again, though, Stumpedia has the annoying habit of leaving what you did on the page, even while it gives you the message that you’ve been updated.

It was very easy to submit SEO Chat, vote down the site I was concerned about, and even submit a spam report on it. I could even delete the offending link, which then showed up under MyDeletions. I can only assume that Stumpedia deleted the link “for me alone,” that is, it would show up in searches conducted by others, but not if I conducted the same search again. And in fact, I was able to confirm this by logging out and repeating the search.

So what’s my bottom line analysis? I honestly don’t see how this site offers anything different from what you can find on many other sites that let you rate search results submitted by other users. Also, there was too much that went unexplained on the site. The mysterious “Points” feature, for instance. Clicking on that link on the upper left revealed user names with “community points” totals next to them, but no explanation of how points are earned or whether they’re worth anything beyond being a marker for site activity. Stumpedia sorely lacks an FAQ page. Even more sadly, Stumpedia seems to lack originality. There are other places on the web you can go that do this kind of search engine better.

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