[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, February 23, 2012. Yes, I know that's quite a while ago. I'm catching up!]
“Pinterest: for the cupcake-making hairstylist-architect with a passion for accessories, bacon and crayons.”
Ouch. There’s sharp bit of sarcasm in that remark, but if the shoe fits – and believe me, you should be able to find any shoe in every colour, make and style on Pinterest – you kind of have to wear it.
Pinterest has been the It thing online for the last few months. In January alone, it reportedly set a record by becoming the social network to gain 10 million unique members in the shortest period of time. Pinterest is not even two years old, and most of its members joined so recently, they’re still figuring out how the thing works.
Pinterest’s name is a portmanteau – that is, a combination of the words “pin” and “interest,” in which members virtually pin photos they like to billboards that can be sorted by themes or interests. Your boards can be as unique as you like: places you’d like to visit, for instance, or cars or cakes or carpets or funny hats. If it’s visual, you can bookmark it, describe it and share it, which makes it a bookmarking site that doubles as a social network.
My wife got involved long before I finally caved, which happened a couple of weeks ago. For her, Pinterest is kind of like a clipping service, or a virtual idea book. Rather than stuffing magazine pages into an envelope, though, she pins photos that may or may not be useful when we get around to designing the kitchen that’s been evolving for years in her imagination. She also collects photos connected to her hobbies, like baking and pottery and travel.
Most active Pinterest users seem to be similar. Food is a big theme, and so is décor, and yes, you’ll find accessories, bacon and crayons. No one should be surprised, by the way, to learn that the majority of Pinterest members are women, and not youngsters by a long shot.
What explains the phenomenon? Why is Pinterest, which as of this week was getting more than 10 million hits an hour (let that sink in for a moment), succeeding where other social networks have stumbled?
It boils down to whether people want to be there. Only last summer, Google+ got plenty of buzz and an astonishing surge of members out of the gate, but it proved to be vapour. Few of those members stuck around.
Here’s what struck me as obvious about Pinterest, even before I joined myself. It’s fun. Google+ is not fun; using it actually feels like work, whereas it’s clear that the people on Pinterest are having a blast, and very much want to be there. You can take it as seriously or as lightly as you please.
Want to make a visual list of movies you’ve always wanted to see? A gallery of place you personally would want to see before you die? Wines you’ve quaffed? Funny cat pics? Have at it.
It’s also remarkably simple to use. As interfaces go, Pinterest has to be one of the most inviting and intuitive in the market. It can also be personalized, connected to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and accessed through mobile devices.
By the way, Pinterest has a copyright policy that is hard to take seriously. Rather boldly, it tells users that it expects them only to post photographs that they personally own … which is interesting, because that is almost never the case.
Not to make light of legitimate copyright beefs (major companies that own photo assets are understandably nervous about Pinterest’s explosive growth, not to mention countless photographers), but Pinterest could make this easy by adopting a more down-to-earth copyright policy, and demonstrating that they intend to follow a true fair-use ethic.
Will the average user be in trouble for pinning photographs of their favourite cushions or flower arrangements? Probably not; in its copyright notes, Pinterest says it will terminate accounts “of users who repeatedly infringe or are repeatedly charged with infringing the copyrights” of others.
Bear that in mind if you get hooked.
John Gushue is a digital editor with CBC News in St. John’s. You can find his modest collection on Pinterest at pinterest.com/johngushue/