Pinterest - hot new network or another Quora?

 
Drawing pins

After a decade of struggle, the social networking battlefield has quietened down. Facebook is the undisputed champion, while Twitter serves for instant news and comment. Google+ tries hard but, as one wag put it, it's like the gym - we all join but nobody uses it. But could there be another challenger - a visual network where people share images on a virtual pinboard?

Pinterest has been around for a couple of years, a place with a largely female and American audience, where people share ideas on design, fashion, travel, books - or anything else you can think of - by "pinning" photos to their various boards.

Over the past few weeks, it has suddenly become the hottest property on the web. In its monthly report on web activity, the ratings firm Comscore revealed that Pinterest was the third fastest growing site in the United States, with its audience rising from 7.5 million unique visitors in December to 11.7 million in January.

Those figures, coupled with a few articles in the tech blogs, have created a tremendous amount of buzz around the network. Over the past week I've noticed that a lot of my friends have joined, and that everywhere I go online the name Pinterest seems to crop up. So no doubt next month's Comscore figures will show even more rapid growth in the site's users.

It is all reminiscent of the hype a while back about another network, Quora. This site where you could ask and answer questions, often about technology, was very fashionable amongst the digerati at the end of 2010, with heady talk of it overtaking Twitter. I even wrote a piece asking whether it was going to be the next big thing in 2011.

Woman in office, wall decorated with postcards and artworks and drawings Women - not geeks - are Pinterest's early adopters

Well that did not happen, and Quora remains a useful but niche forum with few signs of catching the attention of a mainstream audience.

So will the same thing happen to Pinterest, with a blaze of excitement followed by a return to obscurity? Perhaps not. What is different about this network is that the early adopters appear to have been women with mainstream interests - design, fashion, travel - rather than the geeky guys who peopled Quora, and may have proved intimidating to later arrivals.

When newcomers arrive, they will find the site both attractive to look at and easy to use. Whether they will stick with it is another matter - but if they do, you can also see a business model emerging rather more rapidly than on some other networks.

Much of the content on Pinterest is about products - furniture, clothes, books - and in many ways it is more like browsing through a very attractive catalogue than having a social experience. It is not hard to see how this could be attractive to advertisers, and already some pinboards are beginning to contain links to retailers such as Amazon.

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Along with the countless pictures of cats, cakes and curtains, I've found some boards which appeal to me”

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There are plenty of questions about Pinterest. Will it face a backlash from media owners over a somewhat hazy attitude to copyright? Will there be privacy concerns over the way the network seems to force you to follow your Facebook friends the minute you link the two networks? And do enough people really have time to spend on yet another social network?

Like any social network, Pinterest will only be useful if the people who come to it bring interesting content. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this one will not be a flash in the pan, perhaps because, along with the countless pictures of cats, cakes and curtains, I've found some boards which appeal to me.

There is this collection of pictures of old newsrooms, for instance; another devoted to "fun, geeky things".

And then there's this board about the most notable companies of the month, compiled by someone calling himself Mark Zuckerberg.

If it really is the founder of Facebook, it appears he is keeping a close eye on a new neighbour. Tiny Pinterest is run from Palo Alto, a few miles from the sprawling new headquarters of the biggest social network the world has ever seen. It's unlikely that the upstart will have any impact on the growth of Mr Zuckerberg's business - but, as they say in Silicon Valley, only the paranoid survive.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 66.

    From an aesthetics perspective Pinterest has this accomplished in their design. Pictures of puppies, makeup artistry- it's addicting But other then a community resource for ideas, I have yet to find Pinterest particularly useful for my finds though. I just started using Clipix which has become spring cleaning for my bookmarks folders where I can clip links and make use for them when I need them.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 65.

    I don't get what's exciting about resharing someone's photo or graphics 1000 times.

  • Comment number 64.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 63.

    60. matt in the uk
    Why invitation only though ?

    Scaling issues. If they open it up for a free for all there a strong possibility that their servers could crash with to many visitors in to short amount of time. By using invitation system you can level out server and network load and have plan increases in traffic. Invitation seem to be flowing freely through.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 62.

    The interesting thing about pininterest is how much information organising that goes on the site, I for see companies such as Microsoft or Google buying them out to help build their knowledge graph of the world. As a standalone network I doubt it will survive. It also does not feel very social to me.
    I-330
    I like to think I am up to date with the social work and not even I have use them all

  • rate this
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    Comment number 61.

    Invitation to Pinterest just arrived . . !

    Oh . . It want's to connect to my Facebook account . . BYE BYE !

    Why do my FB contacts need to know what I'm up to on other site ?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 60.

    Looks like a good place to sell my new lingerie range.

    Why invitation only though ?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 59.

    58 John_from_Hendon

    We're not talking about re-using somebody else's image, though, are we? It's a photograph that I've taken. It's my copyright. That IS the law as it stands in the UK.

    Re-read your first post and see if you can come up with some facts to back it up.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 58.

    56. Miss Ingoff

    Your 'attitude' to the legal position does not make you correct in law.

    Just you try re-using an image for any profitable purpose and see the writs fly!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 57.

    First we had bookmarks, then we had bookmarks accessible from any computer, then we had social bookmarking whereby we could share our bookmarks. From this progression, Web Curation was born in a multitude of states, of which this is one. PearlTrees and Scoop.it offer similar services, but Pinterest's USP is that it is image based. It's just another variation on a theme and hardly newsworthy!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 56.

    52 John_from_Hendon

    My attitude is the legal position in the UK. If I take picture of you here, the copyright is mine by default. You'd do as well trying to sue me for stealing your soul with my magic box .

    Come up with some UK case law. By your argument, there should be lots, given the vast number of photographs published on social networking sites.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 55.

    Ha! I'm so behind with the times, I don't recognise almost every name mentioned by previous posters, Tumblr? LookBook? Polyvore? Etsy? Instagram? Slideshare? Geez I feel old and I'm not even 30 yet... almost there though!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 54.

    I am afraid that Mr. Cellan-Jones' references to "women with mainstream interests" offset against "geeky guys" rather date him. There are large numbers of mainstream geek women, and the software industry, at least here in the Seattle area, is littered with "geeky gals". Pinterest, then may well be a hangout for geeky women. I believe good journalism needs to get past the 1980s stereotypes.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 53.

    Why is everyone comparing Pinterest to Facebook ? ...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 52.

    39.Miss Ingoff

    Your attitude to rights is not uncommon and it is also not uncommon to be sued!

    See all the problems of Robert Doisneau’s "Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville"

    Your attitude to other people's property is also not uncommon, but you should understand the actual legal position. A model release form isn't really must trouble and then you can feel safe to exploit the photo as you wish.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 51.

    I am beer writer and beer commentator. I only recently joined Pinterest and have already found a rapid following of both men and women; I'd say it's about 40/60. The first of my boards has already amassed nearly 600 followers. Not bad for a network that is still invite only, and a board I only created 3 weeks ago. Thus far, all signs point at Pinterest being a powerful tool by the end of 2012.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 50.

    I just checked out Pininterest after reading your blog. It is seriously insane. "So cute!" is a typical comment. I thought at first they were all teenagers -- nope. These women, and it IS all women, look in their 30s and 40s. Incredible.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 49.

    Actually, Pinterest is losing money and relies on venture capital for operating costs. They are still working on ways to make it profitable.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 48.

    This article is only interesting as a study in sociology and psychology, as are the comments.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 47.

    @ 31. yoinkster - You're right there actually. I do get disconcerted that so many new sites REQUIRE a linked Facebook.
    @ 23. Bluesberry - Gosh yes! All that decadent recipe swapping and home owning! We should all live in plain white boxes and wear sack cloth!

 

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