My Thoughts on Pinterest, Part 2

Front Page of Pinterest

The Front Page of Pinterest

Challenges Pinterest Faces

You can read the first part here. These are some of the more negative sides of Pinterest that I think need to be considered seriously as Pinterest continues growing, and certainly as more people and companies begin interacting with it. I don’t have solutions for all of the issues that I raise, but I hope that Pinterest itself is considering them and coming up with solutions.

Legal Issues

The legal issues that Pinterest faces have been explored far better by people who are not me, many of whom have law degrees and understand the issues far better than I ever will. However, I can say briefly that I think Pinterest needs to put much more of a priority on exploring and explaining these issues. Currently the service has a Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy that follow the typical social network format for these things. We’ve all seen how many problems a disregard for strong, clear policies, especially privacy policies, has caused for Facebook and Google (remember Buzz?), and to a lesser extent a lot of smaller web startups. Pinterest should learn from their mistakes and put together a solid set of policies, and then clearly explain them to its users. This may be particularly important if it begins interacting with larger companies, who will not be amused if all of the legal risks of the service are passed on to them. Pinterest does seem to be taking more interest in the concerns of its users, and I hope it doesn’t follow in Facebook’s footsteps but instead becomes more open.

Pins Become Oversaturated

While the average pinner may remember fondly the time that a pin was repinned fifteen or twenty times, some pins go on to become super-pins, re-cycling through the site hundreds or even thousands of times. That’s not bad in and of itself. But the site has a tendency to re-hash the same pins over and over and over. This can be boring for regular visitors, especially if a lot of their connections are constant re-pinners but not new-content pinners. A girl can only see that creative idea for a fruit plate shaped like a rainbow so many times before she wants it out of the stream of pins she sees every time she logs on.

Pinterest’s Limited Aesthetic May Halt its Growth

Although I wrote previously that Pinterest still has tremendous room for growth, its very well developed user base may block it from achieving that. Most pinners hail from a very limited range of aesthetic tastes, and they produce and perpetuate almost all of the site’s content. If cupcakes are your thing, you will find plenty to love on Pinterest. Ditto pictures of shirtless actors like Ryan Gosling, especially with clever sayings. Bows are in full force, as are soft colors. Home décor is almost exclusively in soft colors, and beautiful flower arrangements are often also in soft colors. Even the dessert recipes tend to be in soft colors! Women whose personal tastes aren’t quite as stereotypically feminine will find far less of interest on the site. And this doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the large groups of people (such as more stereotypically masculine men) with no interest in those things at all.

Of course, the aesthetic of Pinterest, even that of its main demographic, can very easily change as larger cultural trends change. Maybe Pinterest will even hasten the change as everything gets older even faster. But in the meantime plenty of people are signing up for Pinterest, being turned off by an overabundance of pastel, and leaving their accounts dormant rather than trying to search out pins of interest to them, or adding their own.

There are several ways that Pinterest could solve this. First, attempting to deliver some pins that match a user’s obvious interests would go a long way in helping users feel more interested. Users can enter parts of the site that cater to particular types of pins, for example design, clothing, food. Now it seems like these boards are a constantly updating set of all things that all pinners have added. Pinterest needs to figure out how to curate these boards. Pinterest could also try to court more big-name pinners from areas that are underrepresented, and then try to match them with members. Classic car detailers, designers for outdoor sporting goods companies, artists with bold (not pastel!) style? These people need to be welcomed onto Pinterest.

Nobody Really Knows How Pinterest Works

This is potentially Pinterest’s biggest problem (after its potential for being sued for encouraging and enabling systematic copyright violations, of course). By “how it works” I don’t mean how pins get added and shared, but the behind the scenes parts of the service. How come some pins get re-pinned twenty times, others are never seen by anybody, and yet others have 6,457 re-pins and 262 likes? How does a pin get onto its main category page? Is every pin there for fifteen seconds before being booted off by the never ending stream of pins? Does Pinterest try to selectively place pins up there? Are pins only shown once, or do re-pinned pins get re-pinned to the category board? How come some users (surprisingly, usually fairly anonymous people) suddenly get thousands of followers? Why do some users only attract a few? Even the big-time pinners have no idea how this happens.

Pinterest also doesn’t seem to have decided who to reward. Nearly every user on the site is really a re-pinner. Almost uniformly, users with hundreds of pins have re-pinned upwards of 75% of them. Some, maybe even most, have never added a single pin to the site, they just regurgitate other people’s content. However, some of these users are still the most popular, even  Pinterest needs to decide whether they prefer that, or whether pinners who are interacting with the community but also constantly bringing new content into the site should get some kind of bump.

This probably has little practical meaning for the vast majority of pinners. Although the idea of being a famous Pinterest taste-maker might be a vaguely appealing goal, most users just want to share their pins and not manage a Pinterest empire. However, to people trying to do something with Pinterest, promote their brand, sell their products, make their art more popular, this is a big deal. It is already obvious that Pinterest offers huge potential marketing benefits. Whether it will turn into a great boost to sales for companies remains to be seen, but we do know that it is a huge traffic generator. But how can people who want to use Pinterest purposefully use it if they don’t know how it works? Is it worth creating content for it if that content languishes with only a few re-pins? How do new Pinterest profiles go about successfully attracting followers? Pinterest will need to answer a lot of these questions if it expects to make a profit by helping people make a profit.


One thought on “My Thoughts on Pinterest, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Pinterest: Finding the Content You Want | Ellie's Ink

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