Explainer: What is Pinwheel?

20 Mar 2012

We take a look at Flickr founder Caterina Fake’s new start-up Pinwheel, a social networking site which lets users leave notes ‘all around the world.’

What is Pinwheel?

Pinwheel describes itself as a way to ‘find and leave notes all around the world.’ Essentially, you can leave ‘notes’ in specific locations based on Google Maps data which can contain stories, photos, information, advertisements and advice. For example, you can leave a note on a restaurant recommending something on the menu or you can leave a note on a location which may have had significance in your childhood. According to Pinwheel, the only limit is your imagination, so you can make of it what they will. You can also add notes to your favourites and see all the notes you or others have favourited.

Who’s behind it?

Pinwheel was founded by Caterina Fake, better known for cofounding popular photosharing website Flickr which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. She also cofounded Hunch, a ‘taste graph’ which helps users discover recommendations for numerous interests.

Which platforms is it on?

The site is available on the web through desktops and mobiles, though it will launch an iOS version soon.

What are its top features?

You can organise notes into sets if there is an existing theme within it. You can follow people, places and note sets and can also see the latest updates related to you, those you are following or all others. Pinwheel also lets you connect with friends through Facebook and Twitter.

Who are its competitors?

The site says that it’s like ‘Flickr for Places’ though there are other similar products. Repudo for example lets users place multimedia files, such as audio, photo video and text files, onto any location. Kevin Rose’s company Milk launched an app called Oink to let users rate things in different places, though it closed down recently.

It also could compete with the likes of Foursquare, which lets users check into locations, or even Pinterest, which lets users pin and share images they like. There’s also an element of Tumblr to it, what with its focus on photography and its quick ‘notes’ system resembling Tumblr’s quick ‘microblogging’ system.

How could businesses use it?

Pinwheel is trying not to heavily define itself too soon, meaning marketers can use their account as they like. Bands and musicians touring could place notes on areas they’ve visited to let fans keep track of where they’re going or they could allow fans to give feedback on gigs. You could also host treasure hunts through the service for social media campaigns.

Travel companies could use the service to highlight top spots to visit or events happening in particular locations. For film buffs, the service could be used to highlight areas where movies were filmed to let fans visit them – think of many of the locations filmed for The Lord of the Rings movies in New Zealand which have attracted a huge number of tourists.

How can it make money?

According to Pinwheel, it will allow users to place sponsored notes on locations. They will be highlighted for users to view on appropriate locations.

Does it have potential?

There’s certainly a lot of freedom around how Pinwheel could be used, which could offer an attractive proposition for users. Caterina Fake’s name behind it also makes it stand out that bit more and it’s already put in place a way to make money, even though it was only revealed a month ago.

Of course, it may not be appealing for some who are still uncomfortable with location-based services online, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of Foursquare from taking off. The fact that its name sounds similar to Pinterest could cause a bit of confusion too. However, I can certainly see it building a strong community and if its early adopters can create innovative ways of using the service, then it could attract enough attention to gather a more mainstream audience.

When is it available?

Pinwheel is only accessible as a private beta for now and users can apply for invites. It should open up to the public in time.