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Quel Surprise: StumbleUpon Evolves!

StumbleUpon unveiled some major changes, highlighted by the news you’ll no longer have to use the plug-in/browser toolbar to benefit from StumbleUpon’s popular Web site discovery service.

For extensive details on the changes, head on over to VentureBeat, which did an interview with SU co-founder Garrett Camp, who suggests the removal of the toolbar could boost SU’s user base to 50 million to 100 million from six million.

Stepping back, what’s particularly interesting about SU’s technology/product approach is the fact it actually happened.

One of the troubling realities of the Web 2.0 ecosystem is that far too many innovative/interesting startups either disappear or go stagnant once they’ve acquired by a much larger entity looking to establish a foothold.

Perhaps the best example is Flickr, which took the Web by storming with a cool, fun photo-sharing service. Then, it was acquired by Yahoo. In the xx years since the purchase, Flickr has lost its mojo. Sure, it has introduced some new features and it still has a very loyal user base but Flickr could have been much strategically vibrant as a standalone entity or with a different owner.

Take video, for example. Why it took Yahoo/Flickr so long to get into the fast-growing marketing is, at best, puzzling. And when it finally did do video, the service was/is far from inspiring. It’s not like you hear a lot of Flickr Video these days, right?

Another sad story is del.icio.us, which has arguably floundered within Yahoo for the past three years. There’s been lots of talk about del.ico.us 2.0 but what was once a really cool and useful bookmarking service has faded into the background. If del.icio.us has been strategically bold, it should have moved into the search market given it has a massive repository of Web sites recommended by millions of people. Mahalo, anyone?

While Yahoo is an easy target there are countless other examples of interesting start-ups that have disappeared into the bowels of players such as Google, AOL, Microsoft, News Corp., etc.

The fact StumbleUpon is trying to boldly move forward is encouraging. Of course, there’s also speculation eBay is looking to sell StumbleUpon so perhaps what’s happening is akin to fluffing your house before the “For Sale” sign appears on the front lawn.

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