Since it’s start up in 2009, the Californian business has remained relatively unknown. That changed in January 2012 when the ‘pinning buzz’ took off and the site had nearly 12 million unique hits from across the UK and USA, with visitors wanting to place their pins of things.
ComScore reports that Pinterest had 17.8 million unique users during February, and now has over 1.5 million unique visits per day, with the average visitor time on the site being over 14 minutes. Demographics from Google Ad Planner highlight that 80% of vistors are women in the age range from 25 to 54, who are college educated and in the income bracket that reaches $75,000.
These statistics are the reason the site has been labelled as the place where ‘women window shop’ for fashion, fluffy toys and recipes. Whilst the majority of the content does focus on these areas there are other interest boards including Education, Photography and Architecture.
Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann told the audience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin last week, that in today’s world we’re bombarded with product adverts - online, in catalogues and on billboards - that all tell us what we want. In contrast, he believes Pinterest allows you to select ‘things’ for yourself.
“No one has really made a lot of progress toward building a place you want to go every day to discover things that feel like they were hand-picked just for you,’ Silbermann said.
The purpose of the site, Pinterest say, is that it allows you to choose what you want to look at and then “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.”
So if you’re bored and browsing sites, or let’s say, actively selecting your wardrobe for the coming season, should you stumble across an item you like, a pair of trousers, or a handbag you want and would like to keep a record of it, you simply ‘Pin it.’ That stores a photograph of the product on to your personal board.
Although currently, your personal board is not so personal as all other users can view it. A private pin board is an upgrade that the company say they’re considering for the future.
The inter-connectedness of social media - Pinterest has a similar feel to Facebook, which it is heavily linked with, along with Twitter. When you pin an item, you’re essentially posting it and sharing your thoughts on the product. If another user pins something you admire or appreciate, you can ‘Like’ it, or re-pin it – which means pinning in on to your board. Should you want to, you can tweet an image of what you have just pinned or send it to your Facebook Timeline.
The difference between Pinterest and Facebook or Twitter is that the virtual board is more visual, relying on images of clothes, art, books, of anything. Text accompanying the image is basic and most users only post a short description.
Within the site there are a selection of pin boards, which are divided into categories such as DIY & Crafts, Photography, Film, Music and Books, Holidays to list a few. There’s also an ‘Everything’ category, which covers a range of boards, a video section, and you can search for gifts with varying values, depending on how much you want to spend - budgets range from $1-$20 right up to $500+.
Getting on to the site. For the time being, joining the site is by invitation only, enabling the company to keep the site fast and smoothly, they say, and preventing “servers being overwhelmed by spikes in traffic.” You can however request an invite to join by visiting the website. Or, should you have friends already on there, they can send you an invite to join.
To register you need either a Facebook or Twitter account to use their login details. If you don’t have either then you’ll need to get one before you can join. The Pinterest reasoning for this being that it “makes it easier to find people you already know,” and because it “helps prevent spam accounts.”
Once you’ve registered, you select ‘people to follow’, although at this stage you’ve no idea who to follow. But Pinterest does make suggestions for you based on your category selections. With that done, you just need to add the ‘Pin it’ button on to your web browser, so that when you visit a site and want to add an image to your board, you simply click ‘Pin it’ to ensure the image will be placed on your board, where you can add a comment, and the source link to the site is connected.
Connection is the Pinterest mission: “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite [sic] book, toy or recipe can reveal a common link between two people.”
“With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.”
Whilst that may be the company’s intent, Pinterest is being used with a variety of intentions, which includes women planning their weddings on the site, or the ideal nursery for their not-yet-conceived baby, and some families are even announcing the arrival of their new baby on the site.
For the majority of users it’s about keeping a record of ‘stuff’ they’ve seen and liked. It’s like creating an online idealized lifestyle that you can’t yet afford. Years ago, you’d have been cutting out and pasting images from a magazine into your scrap book, photos of those bits and pieces you’d like to buy when you achieve your dream house, meet the man of your dreams or have a baby… The only difference is that nowadays theirs no need for scissors or sticky fingers from the glue.
Although there are photographs and images of inspirational poems or sayings within the site, and plenty of tasty recipes and craft ideas, the visual aspect of Pinterest is proving popular with users and companies benefiting from free advertising of their products. Beneath the glossy superficiality and consumerism of Pinterest there are murky issues about copyright that will in time need to be faced and resolved.
This grey area recently became the topic of debate in the United States after lawyer and photographer, Kristin Kowalski, posted a blog explaining why she’d made the difficult decision to delete her Pinterest boards. After following a discussion on Facebook about the subject, she’d seen that “she and other users were potentially violating copyright laws by posting content obtained freely from the internet.”
That blog post went viral, forcing the issue in to the open, and resulted in a telephone call between CEO Ben Silbermann and Kowalski in which they discussed ideas that would “resolve potential legal issues.” Of that call, Ms Kowalski has said: “He seemed very sincere and was reassuring that some changes are coming.”
Those changes will be needed fast as Pinterest hits the social media big time, because of the legal conflict within the site, which Kowalski explains, saying: “Their lawyers (Pinterest) say you can’t pin anything that you don’t own…. But the site is saying you can. It’s very confusing to users.”
The Pinterest terms and conditions, which very few users bother to read, indemnify the company, so if a problem occurred it is the ‘window shopping women’ using the site that are potentially putting themselves at a risk from the wrath of copyright lawyers.
However, there remains uncertainty about what constitutes copyright infringement. In the Wall Street Journal’s article ‘Is Pinterest the Next Napster’ Charley Moore, the executive chairman of RocketLaywer.com, which is an online legal service, agrees that there are differences in the copyright debate between “a thumbnail of an image,” being used which “may be acceptable,” and “making copies of a high-resolution image” that “may not be acceptable to the photographer.”
In the phone call between Silbermann and Kowalski there was apparently talk of an additional button, which Pinterest users would use to request permission to pin an item. Whilst that would be a step in the right direction in protecting the legal rights of all concerned, there are doubts about the success of such a step, considering the delayed time factor of making requests.
As with Napster, the difficulty highlights the problem that as internet and social media sites develop and evolve, challenging the status quo, they do so at a speed the legal system can't keep up with.
“All the lawyers interviewed for this article said the courts are far behind in copyright law in areas where Pinterest could prevent issues,” Therese Poletti of the Wall Street Journal wrote.
Whilst millions of Pinterest users will continue to merrily pin away on the virtual scrapbook, for others the unresolved copyright issues are legal concerns that are not worth the personal risk.
“The first person who sues is going to make the law,” Ms Kowalski said, “and as a practicing attorney I don’t want to be the defendant in that case.”