Pinterest, or virtual pinboards, is the latest trend to hit the social network – but what has it got that others don’t?
AS a child, Ben Silbermann was a collector of stamps, leaves and the occasional insect. Fast forward two decades and the political science graduate has become the CEO and co-founder of Pinterest.
What’s Pinterest, you ask? Well, it’s only the fastest growing social networking site in history, currently valued at US$1.5bil (RM4.69bil).
That’s pinterest-ing: Enthusiast Hemavathy Suppiah assures that the Pinterest appeal is not about collecting followers.
The content-sharing service is essentially a “virtual pinboard” sparked off by the idea of helping people build collections online.
Members are given a space to showcase their interests, via images “pinned” off the web. Each “pin” is linked to related articles or web content.
The images can then be categorised under different boards, allowing other members to browse through them, “follow” selected boards, and “re-pin” an item or two if it strikes their fancy.
Once you have a Pinmarklet tab installed on your Internet browser, pinning literally becomes a one-click process.
Part of the Pinterest allure is perhaps the simplicity in letting one “curate” images and build an individual profile.
Up until last week, Pinterest took new users by invitation only, not that it stopped the site from garnering over 20 million monthly visitors since it was launched as a beta (test) product in March 2010.
Pinterest is not just for women. Feature writer Johnathan Sia hopped on the bandwagon last year and sees the site as a great sharing platform that aims to inspire.
By April this year, Pinterest had become the third most-visited social network site after Facebook and Twitter, according to digital marketing firm Experian Marketing Services.
Facebook recorded more than seven billion total (US) visitors in March this year; Twitter had 182 million; and Pinterest, a whopping 104 million total visits. Trailing behind were LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace and Tumblr.
What’s interesting is that women seem to be the driving force behind Pinterest’s surge in popularity.
Reports reveal that the network comprises 60% female users, mostly between the ages of 25 and 44.
Even US First Lady Michelle Obama is on Pinterest, joining celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen de Generes, Jessica Alba, and Martha Stewart.
The virtual board is often largely governed by pinned images of home décor, crafts, holidays, fashion and food.
That’s precisely what got Nur Aziemah Azman, 25, hooked on Pinterest.
“I was creating a mood board on the computer just to add cheer to my office workspace sometime last year when a colleague happened to notice. She told me about Pinterest, sent me an invite, and from then on, I was hooked,” says the marketing and communications executive.
“I’ve always loved pretty pictures, and collaging is one of my favourite activities. Pinterest was an extension of this for me. There are great photos, all linked to a huge expanse of additional information.
Nur Aziemah Azman regards Pinterest as a clutter-free alternative to scrapbooking.
“There’s no longer a need to print things out, add to the clutter or risk losing them. Visiting Pinterest is like browsing through a mesh of all my favourite magazines for free,” she adds.
Nur Aziemah currently has 12 virtual pinboards to “curate” images with.
“I have one entitled ‘Making a home more homey: A wishlist”, where I collect ideas for my dream home.
“There’s also ‘Café inspirations’, featuring great interiors of restaurants and cafés or random stuff I hope to include when I open up my own café someday!” she enthuses.
“As they say: a picture paints a thousand words. So for me, Pinterest’s collection of images creates a more lasting impression compared to reading lines of text on Facebook or Twitter. It is less a platform to ‘talk’, and more of a way for me to develop my own interests. I like the aspect of discovering new things and learning from other people.”
Nur Aziemah is limited to pinning on the weekends.
“I’d probably be on it a lot more if the site was not blocked in the office!
“Ironicially, Pinterest has been a great source of inspiration for my work. and I feel that it has helped me to visually explain ideas better now,” she says.
To events organiser Hemavathy Suppiah, 30, Pinterest represents “a great patchwork of people and their interests”.
“Other social media sites seem to put an emphasis on the individual and their circle of friends, says the events organiser.
“Pinterest, on the other hand, is like a stream of virtual coffee-table books. It’s all about the aesthetics – how things look,” she adds.
A self-professed Pinterest “addict”, Hemavathy stumbled upon the site just last month, but has since collected over 2,156 pictures across 30 of her boards.
Some members have a massive following on Pinterest, with numbers amounting to over 900,000.
Hemavathy, who is content with the 16 she currently has, assures that the Pinterest appeal isn’t about “collecting” followers.
“I log on to Pinterest every day; sometimes several times a day. I’m always finding something I like, but I try to steer clear of controversial issues – such as sex, religion or politics.
“Basically, I joined Pinterest for myself, so I add pictures that I like looking at.”
For the guys
And the men, too, have joined the pack.
Feature writer Johnathan Sia hopped on the bandwagon at the end of last year.
“At first, I thought it would be a good place to start a virtual record of all the books I have. I like the fact that I can have a visual library of stuff I own – I tend to lose a fair bit of things by loaning them out and forgetting about them later.
“Soon after beginning my book catalogue, I realised it was also a great way to share my writing, especially every time an article of mine gets repinned.
“A few repins later, I was hooked. It also energised me to go back and edit some articles to pair them up with visually arresting images – much like how magazines would do them,” says the 34-year-old, who currently manages 10 pinboards.
“When I read an article that interests me, the ‘Pin It’ button is the first thing I aim for.
“A lot of my colleagues aren’t really sold on it and have felt it places too much emphasis on visuals related to fashion and the arts.
“One of the tricky things about Pinterest is that you need to be a very visual person in order to take advantage of its potential,” Sia opines.
Sia feels that Pinterest allows for an appreciation of third-party visuals in its entirety. But some would argue that the site is opening up a whole can of worms regarding copyright infringement.
The issue was first highlighted in a blog post by photographer and lawyer Kirsten Kowalski, who apparently shut down her account over concerns that Pinterest users could be sued for reposting images they did not own.
Sia, however, has a different take.
“I just don’t feel that anyone’s copyright is infringed through Pinterest. It’s simply a case of re-exposing existing materials to a different audience.
“It’s also a wonderful marketing opportunity for brands,” he adds.
Indeed, a survey by behavioural commerce company SteelHouse found that Pinterest users are 79% more likely to purchase items they saw pinned on Pinterest compared Facebook users.
However, critics and Facebook fans see Pinterest as being a visual rather than literary medium and lacks the conversations that build true customer relationships.
Sia is of the opinion that a Pinterest repin carries more value than a Facebook “like”.
“Since its inception, Pinterest has evolved into a social-shopping site that has enough potential to disrupt e-commerce as we know it.
“The prospect of shopping via Pinterest based on the recommendations of people whose opinions I value is pretty attractive,” he says.
Pinterest receives a referral fee or a portion of revenue over Pin-related purchases.
Grasping the opportunity offered by the new social network site, online marketplace Rakuten, dubbed the Amazon of Japan, led a US$100 million (RM313 million) investment in Pinterest earlier this year.
Sia feels that while the various social media strands become increasingly interconnected, each major network remains unique.
“They all serve different purposes and operate in different areas of the social media ecosystem. If I were to summarise them, I’d say: Facebook is a place to broadcast highlights of your life; Twitter is a place for general day-to-day musings; Instagram is your visual diary of the world around you; and Tumblr is a quick blogging option that caters for expressing yourself in the visual or written form.”
As for Pinterest, one would think that it speaks to the hoarders within us all – visually-stimulated individuals who are on an eternal quest to express ourselves through the things we own.
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