Peeking into Pinterest: DIY and Dogma
Before looking into the surprisingly rich commentary found on Pinterest.com, how the website functions and its purpose will need to be examined. Pinterest.com as a service is difficult to define because the nature of the site and the experience depends on the user. Defining something subjective is, of course, too fluid among users, but Pinterest certainly has a solid idea of how it would like to be perceived by consumers. The website explains that it is a “virtual pin board that allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you love”, (Pinterest.com, 2011).
How the Website Functions
Currently membership to the website is by invitation only; however users can request an invite directly from the website if they do not know anyone who is already a user. Once the invitation is extended (which takes approximately two days) the user is free to create an account and begin creating boards. Boards function as categories for things that interest the user (i.e., décor, recipes, photography) and are filled with pins from all over the web; each pin provides space to describe it as well as to credit the source of the pin content. Users may view other’s boards and follow certain members or they can go to the “popular” section and see pins on all sorts of topics by various users. Additionally, there is an “everything” section that allows users to view specific categories of boards with pins from all users. All pins posted to the site have a comment feature that is accessible to all users, although the original user who pinned the image can remove comments or the pin altogether.
Purpose and Profit
Considering that the founders of Pinterest were able to raise $27 million in venture capital (Belz, 2011), investors believe Pinterest has potential to make money. Pinterest, like many free services on the web, is offering interaction in exchange for information; that information is worth millions to advertisers and software developers. As tech writer Steve Cheney explains:
And perhaps most notably, though it will surely take a while, Pinterest is already threatening to monetize, as thoseMidwesthousewives are literally using it for shopping discovery, which Pinterest can profit off of by taking attribution for purchases that originate off its platform. I know several friends who’ve purchased stuff spontaneously via random discovery on the site. I expect Pinterest to be thriving a year from now (my guess is 30 million users next Thanksgiving) and also spawn hundreds of copycat startups in other verticals (“Pinterest for that”), (Cheney, 2011).
Interpretation of Content
Pinterest is primarily visual and the website is visually striking as soon as the webpage appears. The draw of the website is browsing pins that are images, essentially a picture book of ideas and gathering inspiration from others. The layout of the pins puts discussion as secondary to the visual experience. Etiquette rules for Pinterest are few and simple, among them are no nudity or hateful content, credit sources and avoid self promotion. Based on how the layout would appear to want users to interact—quick and short-winded– it was surprising to see such heated and lengthy debates blossom on the site. Also, coming upon a controversial pin among scores of pretty hair-dos and brownie recipes is a mix of refreshing and confusing, and those sentiments were confirmed in the comments found about those pins. Many users seemed to share the idea that controversy or edgy content is not what Pinterest is for. The site management doesn’t seem to be entirely sure about the definition of appropriate. We can see this contrast among user’s opinions in the comments regarding a pin about school reform, shown below.
One curse word led to over thirty comments ranging from disgust to accolade, user Rachel Bland commented, “I get on here to see ideas not bad language and arguing!!!!! This is supposed to be ideas and neat things not this garbage!” From a completely different angle user Savannah Guernsey states, “This is why I love the internet. It’s not censored–so refreshing.” And regarding the reform issue, not the curse word Jen Van Brasch writes, “Y’all are missing the point. It’s a message that says “CARE ALREADY!!” when it comes to our schools. Be a grownup and ignore the language for the message. Goodness!”
Beyond the battles about language, appropriateness and what Pinterest is and is not for users eventually realize that the original pin was posted by someone from inside Pinterest, and on its “best of” board. But Pinterest rules say no curse words; this one pin is an example of the larger kinks and ambiguous intent to be navigated when the questions are raised: what is Pinterest for and who decides what is appropriate?
If one were to envision the founders of Pinterest based on the demographics of the users a group of Christian, conservative, white, thin, mainstream women would be expected. Actually, the founders of Pinterest are mostly men, and fairly diverse. According to information from the website, Pinterest has nine investors, only one of which is a woman. The team that runs the website is a group of 14, five women and 9 men. Looking at pictures of the staff, diversity is apparent. The group has African-American, Asian,Latinaand Caucasian employees. Yet, in the blogosphere the lack of diversity is not unnoticed as blogger Justina Blakeney points out:
The more I tune into it, the more I notice segregation. If I see a black face on a design blog, most of the time the blog’s author is a person of color. Frida Kahlo is just about the onlyLatinaI ever see represented on design blogs. Looking at my Pinterest feed, I notice picture after picture of Christina Hendrix, of Audrey Hepburn, Kate Moss or skinny blond women twisting their hair into fancy updos, of bride after bride after bride, all with the same pale skin and wispy hair, (Blakeney, 2011).
Another blogger, Deirdre James shares similar sentiment when she writes:
But it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. Pinterest does have its issues. Sometimes it can be a little too Mommy & Me. I enjoy the fashion, cutting edge design, and provocative photography, not babies in baskets. Also, I don’t see a lot of diversity on Pinterest. You see more Jennifer Anistons than Jennifer Hudsons and Jennifer Lopezs if you catch my drift, (James, 2011).
The lack of diversity is not limited to ethnicity either. On any given visit debates about religion, body image, feminism, and sexuality are seen. Some of the more controversial pins and the wide range of reactions are shown below:
Cindy Conrad TOTALLY offensive. I am a Christian and believe what the Bible says. I have friends that are homosexuals, but they don’t throw it in my face – or better yet – they don’t put it on the internet for children to see 😦 but if it is in the Bible (and it is), then the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it. I have 4 children – and they were taught at a very early age, that homosexuality was wrong – an abomination. Now – I have five very lovely grandchildren. And homosexuality is a choice – just like infidelity.
Alexandra Machado Hurts my feelings 😦 Cindy will never know what it’s like to be shamed for loving somebody…. Cindy, I grew up 10 years in catholic school, and its people like you who kill me and after day…. When I had my first girlfriend I was told by religious bigots like you that I was an ABOMINATION. How does that feel to people like Jesse and I? I have attempted suicide 3 times! My life is a struggle, every day because of people like you… I am a psych student working with special ed children and you call ME an abomination? I was born this way. I save people and I love everyone, not because I am a Christian… I am not. Because of people who call themselves good Christians like you. I am a good person, and I love everyone because it is RIGHT and YOU are a terrible person, I hope one day somebody can help your blind eyes see. I am not an abomination for having loved another woman!
Amber Lancaster Aww..I love this
Abbey Charlow Ummm I am very disturbed by this picture.
This was posted in humor, only one comment was posted, which read “LOL”.
Nancy Corley oxymoron
Why does there appear to be such a lack of diversity among the contributors? Part of the answer may be that many reach the site by invitation and people generally have friends with similar interests and world views. Another aspect is the way the site functions, the re-pin button allows users to browse the site without ever contributing their own content, but simply re-pinning someone else’s pin. Those who take the time to search and pin outside of Pinterest with new pins are shaping the content more so than the re-pinners. Slate magazine writer Farhad Manjoo offers a piece of the lack of diversity puzzle, “the site is based in Palo Alto, Calif., its founder, Ben Silberman, is from Des Moines, Iowa, and he has said that the site first caught on among women in the Midwest, (Manjoo, 2011). Considering the demographic of the website’s original users, finding more conservative, religious, mainstream, female driven content is not surprising.
The great thing about Pinterest is that its identity is fluid and customizable. A user can stick to only the boards that interest them, or follow only those they know, you could visit Pinterest without ever visiting the popular board, which has pins from all users. While advocating an insular experience in the community is not ideal, the point is this website has the potential to be diverse or remain repetitive– if that is where the users take it. Although one group may be a dominant presence today, another group may begin to shape the content tomorrow. For instance, there are not many male members at this time, but the more men who join could change the landscape.
Lynette Walczak, a Pinterest user, blogger and contributor to the funtimesguide.com actually wrote an article encouraging more men to join Pinterest, even listing several men’s pages to encourage new users. She wrote:
The trick is to think outside the box to make Pinterest work for you! So, what do you think?… Does Pinterest work for guys? What would a site like Pinterest for guys look like? (Hint: If you build it, they will come.)The fact of the matter is Pinterest can be whatever you want it to be. If you start sharing things there that interest you, you can bet that others with those same interests will find you and start sharing similar things!,(Walczak, 2011).
The one thing all Pinterest users have in common is they love the idea of sharing ideas. The users at this stage cannot agree on what content is appropriate for Pinterest, but they can agree that they all want access to shared ideas in this visually rich format. Because this site is new it is almost viewed as an unclaimed piece of digital land, and there are strong opinions in the community about what should be put on this land. Clearly the comments that seek to convey the dominance of one group or another show that the users have a vested interest. This interest stems from the fact that Pinterest is unique, not so much in its idea of bookmarking, but in its easy-to-use format with a place to visit where you can look at everything that makes you happy. You do not have to be tech savvy to play on Pinterest, and this is what consumers are demanding and responding to now that access to the internet has become commonplace.
The Business of a Pin
This paper has looked at how Pinterest functions as a website, the content found there, the way the users interact and some of the issues that need to be addressed. The interest in Pinterest is not purely organic; companies are taking notice, although no paid advertising has made it to the website yet. Whole Foods and West Elm now have user pages on Pinterest (MacMillan, 2011). On the user side of the experience the value of the site may seem fairly simple; we just love to pin cool things. On the business side of it, Pinterest is rather new. As explained by the founder, Ben Silberman “People are planning their vacation, they are redecorating their home, they are planning their wardrobe,” he says. “They are going to Pinterest to get inspiration for the most important life projects, which correlate to the most important purchasing events in their life.”
Pinterest has done some things differently, for starters according to industry experts the website bypassed the typical male dominated, tech bubble that budding social networking sites seem to pass through.
About 70 percent of users are female, another rarity for young Web services, which usually grow by relying on word-of-mouth amongSilicon Valley’s (mostly male) insiders. “It is hard to call it a business—it’s more a phenomenon,” says Eventbrite Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hartz, an early investor, (MacMillan, 2011).
Part of the charm of pinterest is the imperfectness of it. Yes, there are pins that grow tired, and themes that get boring throughout, but it is a haven compared to the information seeking ploys that saturate Facebook. When a user visits Pinterest currently there are no advertising gimmicks, it is fairly pure. How the website will maintain this charm remains to be seen, as advertisers are getting excited about Pinterest. Women have long been known to be the spenders in the household, and Pinterest is used mostly by younger women with disposable income (Alexa.com, 2011)—a very enticing group for retailers. A study was done in 2009 by Lee et al. comparing consumer created vs. marketer created online communities. The study hypothesized that users of consumer generated websites would be more likely to engage in genuine discussion, feedback and trust of a product if the community was consumer created. The researchers surmised:
Specifically, consumers’ attribution of intrinsic motives of altruism to the marketer- created online brand community was discounted, but such attribution was strongly generated when consumers browsed the consumer created online brand community. Such attribution patterns, in turn, significantly influenced consumers’ online brand community engagement behaviors directly, as well as indirectly through their social identification motivations…One possible approach is to develop a platform of online brand communities encouraging consumers to voluntarily share and exchange their ideas rather than imposing the corporation’s own ideas such as sales coupons or sweepstakes. (Lee et al., 2009)
Pinterest appears to be doing just this, by offering a pure approach for people to share ideas online, and about tangible things we like. But the start-up needs to make money. Here in this merge of genuine curator users and incredible brand potential is where Pinterest is the new kid on the block, and the tech and advertising worlds are watching. Pinterest has the weight of ‘keeping it real’ on their shoulders now that everyone knows who they are. Not only through the experience of the user, by not becoming prizes at an advertising county fair, but through the content as well by offering more diversity and a more defined look at Pinterest quality appropriateness. Pinterest may end up being the start of what we remember as the new web evolving into something of a blend between user content and advertising from mass used sites. Currently advertising is dominating our experiences and shaping what we see and share, even though many of us are not aware of it while we play ‘adver-games’ and do our Google searches. Now that the world is discovering Pinterest, will the content change to reflect something other than mainstream ideals, but keep its organic feel? In order for the website to grow and appeal to more people it will have to, the diversity is what will keep it fresh.
Doohwang, L., Hyuk Soo, K., & Jung Kyu, K. (2011). The Impact of Online Brand Community Type on Consumer’s Community Engagement Behaviors: Consumer-Created vs. Marketer-Created Online Brand Community in Online Social-Networking Web Sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14(1/2), 59-63. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0397