StumbleUpon Still Standing Under eBay

Some startups are changed when acquired by large vendors, while others don’t change much at all. In the case of content-discovery service StumbleUpon, which was acquired by eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) in 2007 for $75 million, things haven’t changed all that much.

StumbleUpon still uses open source tools, and the company’s core mission remains the same, but with eBay as the parent, some subtle differences now exist.

Garrett Camp, founder and chief product officer at StumbleUpon, told that management is more of a priority now.

“Before the acquisition it was very ad hoc, we had 15 people on staff, 10 of them technical. As of next week, we will be up to 30 people, we have an org chart and there is more time spent in meetings.”

According to Camp, StumbleUpon’s overall atmosphere is similar as well, and the transition has been easy. All employees at StumbleUpon before the acquisition are still with the company, and the location hasn’t changed.

“Because we really are like an independent subsidiary within eBay, we have a lot of flexibility,” Camp said.

The fact that eBay owns StumbleUpon now helps in some ways, too. Camp noted that eBay’s resources have been a benefit.

In particular, he commented that due to eBay’s immense buying power, StumbleUpon gets better pricing from suppliers so that he can acquire hardware faster and cheaper than before.

From a development point of view, StumbleUpon has used the Mozilla Framework since its inception. Camp explained that in the beginning his partner and co-founder of StumbleUpon, Geoff Smith, decided to use Mozilla as at the time it seemed like an easy way to do things.

“It’s all based on XUL and JavaScript,” Camp said. “It’s just a choice made by Geoff early on, and we just stuck with it.”

Quality assurance (QA) is something that will be further improved, though. Camp noted that the StumbleUpon community has been one of the biggest assets for QA.

That said StumbleUpon is now adding QA as an official role with a new hire coming onboard next week. Part of the new QA person’s responsibility will be to determine if StumbleUpon should be using any particular automated tool for code quality and bug identification.

The overall networking infrastructure of StumbleUpon has also improved in the last year. Camp noted that the service is now a lot more distributed than it was in the beginning with multiple databases serving users. In fact, he said six boxes would now have to completely fail for the StumbleUpon service as a whole to fail.

The back-end hosting environment for StumbleUpon remains a core
Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP — or LAMP — stack. In addition, Camp explained that StumbleUpon still uses the open source tools Nagios and Ganglia to help monitor its network.

From a product perspective, the core focus of StumbleUpon has not shifted to service eBay’s needs. To date, an eBay-focused development effort to integrate StumbleUpon into its marketplace has not occurred, according to Camp.

“The No. 1 reason why we haven’t made it a priority is once we go down that route [eBay integration], it will require a lot of engineering support,” he noted.

“Right now we only have 20 engineers, and it would take half of them just to support eBay and we’re just not at the size yet where it makes sense.”

Camp added that plenty of opportunities exist for StumbleUpon to make content discovery better, which is what the company is all about.


A few misconceptions prevail about what StumbleUpon actually does.

“I hear social bookmarking or random Web pages, both of which aren’t quite accurate,” Camp said. He said the company’s primary objective is content discovery, while bookmarking is a side effect.

“We could be social bookmarking, but that is really just a piece of it, just like tagging is just a piece of it,” he explained. “They are just different mechanisms to support discovery.”

Going forward, the goal for StumbleUpon is to remain focused on the core mission of content discovery while growing the user base. “My top priority is where do we get the next 10 times growth and how do we make that possible,” Camp said.

“We need to be willing to say no to tangential nice-to-have features that aren’t really core to what we’re about,” he added. “Just staying on track and maintaining priorities is the biggest challenge we face.”

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