Pinterest: it isn’t just for girls, you know

22 Mar 2012

Pinterest has been heralded as the fastest-growing social networking phenomenon since Facebook. Yet once I try to get past the skirts, the nails, handbags and flower arrangements and shed a weird, guilty feeling of looking inside a stranger’s shopping bag, I admit its potential is compelling.

But something about Pinterest has eluded me the past few weeks. When we reported that Eason was the first Irish retail brand to go onto Pinterest that same week, we were one of the first Irish media brands to lob in a Pinterest button on stories. How far-sighted that must have looked.

Earlier this year, comScore reported that with 11.7m users, Pinterest was the fastest site in history to break through the 10m unique visitor mark.

Most of the site’s users are female – with 97pc of the site’s Facebook Likes being made by women.

Brands are no doubt flocking to Pinterest and various social media ninjas are breathlessly extolling its virtues as the next Facebook.

Ben Silbermann founded Pinterest in March 2010 as a way to connect everyone in the world through the things they find interesting. With an Alexa rank of 62 and having just appointed Facebook’s former head of monetisation Tim Kendall to bring in the cash, Pinterest must surely be onto great things, right?

Well, like all new and emerging media empires, the real question is how useful it actually is. These questions were asked of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in their early days and in reality most people I know who use them today use all three religiously. I can’t really say the same about Google+, though – a pile of great technologies such as Hangouts and smooth sharing software, but I’m unsure of the glue to keep me coming back. Where is the glue?

And up until today I had been asking myself the same question about Pinterest. Before I wrote this piece, I tweeted/thought out loud and in near panic: “Once I get past the nails, skirts and handbags, do you think I’ll eventually find #pinterest riveting? I want to be objective, I really do.”

And I do, I really do. But until now, most of the social feedback I get from Pinterest is related to nails and skirts. It looks like a gigantic shopping window. And I was prepared to slam it as such.

And generally on the site comments accompany clothes and fashion to the tune of: “I like the outfit but the hat wouldn’t suit me.”

I did a quick straw poll in the office last week and asked a group of colleagues (all female, by the way), have they found Pinterest compelling? “Meh” was the general response, so its capture of hearts and minds isn’t yet as universal as you’d think.

And then something happened …

Well, to be fair, I decided to start again with Pinterest. I pinned something I saw on Engadget about Netflix and I rummaged around.

Gliding my eyes past ornaments and flower displays – OK, from high-street shop windows we’re now in bric-a-brac territory – and discovered a photo essay about Soviet airships. Yes, Soviet airships! Don’t judge, it appealed to my sense of history and science. Then I discovered a nice picture of a 1965 Ferrari …

Now I get it, I just needed to spend a little time with it and my imagination is in overdrive about Pinterest’s potential.

You see, I think Pinterest has a great future as a way of disseminating and discovering content and knowledge, but it needs more variety before it gets typecast as a shop window.

Something about it evokes the old feeling of meandering through a library looking for a book to read but not sure what and stumbling onto a new author or title that could change your life forever.

I think Pinterest will start to come into its own when it officially arrives on the iPad, although a variety of iPad apps exist around Pinterest that allow you to pin directly from Safari, for example.

New possibilities abound when you consider Instagram’s hook-up with Hipstamatic and whether people can pin images, video and knowledge from the street to the burgeoning community.

But here’s where Pinterest will stumble. It is already being criticised for rapidly becoming a menagerie of copyrighted photography and images. People are sharing copyrighted material even though Pinterest officially discourages this practice.

And where does it lie on people sharing their own images, etc? All these questions and more need to be resolved sooner rather than later.

Pinterest’s potential in sharing people’s interests could turn it into one of this planet’s great reservoirs of zeitgeist and thought – a virtual Library of Alexandria – in a way that ought to give Google pause for thought.

In doing so it can still become a conduit for marketing and e-commerce.

The key is not to get typecast.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years