StumbleUpon shutting down photo blogs, themes, groups Oct. 24

StumbleUpon is sure to have some pretty disappointed users come the end of next month thanks to its decision to shut down some features of the service. The company says it’s shutting down groups, photo and HTML blogging, and the ability to select themes, all of which are going away as of Oct. 24. StumbleUpon says the decision is about being honest about what it’s good at (social discovery and recommendations) and away from what it’s not (trying to be Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook or MySpace).

So what’s going to change exactly? The ability of StumbleUpon users to customize reviews of the stuff they find on the site. That means no adding HTML or photos to them anymore. StumbleUpon will still let users write reviews and comment, but they’ll be plain text only from now on. Previous reviews that have been customized in any way will live on, but they’ll be converted to plain text reviews, according to the site’s FAQ. Users also will no longer have the ability to add themes or a background image to their profiles on the site. Soon they’ll all look the same: white background with black lettering only.

Some of these are features that are widely used (photo blogging) while others are less popular (groups, themes) among the site’s 15 million users. Over the years, the service added those features before there was Tumblr or Twitter, or a large chunk of the world was on Facebook. Now StumbleUpon says it realizes its team doesn’t have the time or resources to devote to features that they willingly admit other services do a lot better.

“Other platforms frankly do a really good job of [customization and self-expression] and that’s what they’re all about. While certain [StumbleUpon users] may not want to go, other services do offer a better experience of that,” said Marc Leibowitz, Stumble Upon’s vice president of marketing and business development, in an interview Thursday. Essentially, they want their users to come for the social discovery, and go elsewhere for other stuff. Leibowitz said that they know based on how people share StumbleUpon URLs that many of their users are already using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and others for blogging anyway.

Attempting to put the changes in perspective, he noted how different the social web is today versus when his service got its start:

It’s amazing how StumbleUpon started in a day and age when the searching we take advantage of now didn’t exist. Google (s goog) was just getting started. There are things and microblogging services that hadn’t even been conceptualized when StumbleUpon was already a few years old. The things we built out of necessity because they didn’t exist elsewhere are no longer warranted.

As reasonable as it sounds, it can’t come as very welcome news for users who’ve spent tons of time customizing their StumbleUpon review sites with HTML, or those that are just used to using StumbleUpon a certain way. But the company says it’s “exploring possible export options” for those who want to save their PhotoBlog before it disappears from StumbleUpon’s servers next month.

“We’re talking about a small, albeit passionate, group of users that were using these bells and whistles…it was costing us time to maintain these things that would be better applied to improving the discovery experience,” Leibowitz said. “We regret doing anything that disappoints our users, but this is being done to simplify the service and make it easier to use for a broader audience.”

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user Frank Gruber