For a couple of weeks now I’ve been hearing about Pinterest. The references have run the gamut from fawning tech portrayals of the service (“Fastest to 10 million users in history”) to shares from Facebook friends about how they start Pinning and just can’t stop until hours later. Clearly, Pinterest has become an important site to many people, but why? And what does it mean for the larger trend of how we characterize, organized, and build information?
Pinterest is brilliant because it turns a geeky process – arranging like things by using “tags”, “word clouds”, “memes” and word names – into a visual process that anyone can do easily. Pinterest allows you to visually tag well, anything. This is cool both because many people (and mostly, so far, women) are clearly interested in sharing chocolate hacks, cute DIY pillows, and new fashion looks, and not as interested as categorizing for a system that these might be posts about food recipes, home crafts, and fashion trends. All of these represent a gold mine for retailers and interest graph mappers of all kinds.
Pinterest also is very cool because it’s taken a social process (I have an interest and want to share it) and combined with social distribution (it’s easy to share through Facebook, Twitter, and of course, through Pinterest) and made it very very very easy to use. This means that UX designers in particular should consider using a visual matching process in favor of a “pick this item from a list” display in the future to get better user adoption.
Retailers (especially those who sell products that you can see and touch) should be especially excited about Pinterest because it gives them a way to access a community starved for mix-and-match looks. In the same way that companies and brands have started to build communities on Instagram with photos of their ideas and products, I think it’s likely that “community ambassadors” and brand champions will emerge as design superstars from the Pinterest community (if it hasn’t happened already.) Does this mean that Pinterest replaces existing brand outlets on Twitter, Facebook, etc? I don’t think so – I think it’s just another way for the customer to own and shape the brand experience.
And this leads me to the inevitable “what’s next” question: will people get tired of Pinterest? (who knows – I don’t think it’s super-important at the moment.) The real “a-ha” here is that people like to categorize information visually. Call it “micro-scrapbooking,” “pinning”, or just arranging the things you like together – the people at Pinterest have come up with a dynamite model for gathering, organizing, and sharing like visual information. It will be particularly interesting to see if Pinboards emerge as a model for organizing metaconcepts like “Customer Service” or “Branding” – and turn into de facto micro-blogs or distribution networks for other content -or whether they stay individually focused on the interests of the Pinners.