Imagine walking into a 14-year old girl's bedroom — what would you see on the walls? Probably pictures torn from magazines, drawings, maybe inspirational quotes. Transform that visual collage into a social media site, and you have Pinterest. The site has taken off since its 2011 launch, with nearly 12 million unique visitors in January, 2012, and its membership has been accelerated by Facebook tie-ins that show your friends' Pinterest activity.
So why all the buzz? How does it work? And is it a contender to Facebook?
The digital equivalent of a 14-year old girl's bedroom is a decent visual metaphor for the site, but Pinterest's effect is much more sophisticated. It's a rich, hyperlinked way to see what others are inspired by and aspire to.
How Pinterest Works
Once you sign up for a Pinterest account, you can "pin" images you see online. You can either input a link into Pinterest manually by copying it, or you can install a browser extension for Pinterest that lets you click a button that's added into in the browser frame to add an image:
Firefox right click add-on
Chrome Pinterest extension
Internet Explorer Bookmarklet for Pinterest
Images you pin are arranged into thematic boards. You pick the general theme of the board and pin away. Others "like" your pins or repin them to boards of their own.
You follow friends or other pinners whose curation you admire. You might have a designer who's got a whole board of reading nooks you like. Or maybe a friend is planning a trip to Tahiti, and you like looking at the images of the water that she pins.
The site initially found favor with brides-to-be, so there are a lot of dresses, teacakes, and up-dos. And while many more non-brides are joining the site, some estimates put the female to male ration at 97% favoring the ladies!
Pinterest can be a great personal planning tool for organizing ideas around design; as you contemplate your upcoming wedding, vacation, kids birthday party, or kitchen remodel, you can create visual collages of ideas — and share them with your friends.
When others seek similar inspiration for their event they may find your reading nook board and follow it. You can follow anyone; it doesn't have to be reciprocated like a friend request on Facebook. All boards are public right now, but Pinterest says they are thinking about adding more options to create private boards.
How Pinterest Compares To Facebook
But what I like best about Pinterest is the public nature of the boards; it's one of the things that makes it so different from Facebook. You don't just check up on people, you can get really lost in ideas — browsing by theme: redecorating… cars… gadgets… parenting ideas… beer-making supplies… (Those last two categories do not go together, by the way.) You can also search specifically, and see the most recent images that fit your search terms. Following individual pinners is cool, but it's the categorical organization of ideas that is coolest. Pinterest is more like flipping through the pages of a magazine like Real Simple or House Beautiful than it is catching up on friends. It's a "Calgon take me away" kind of break. And yes, it can be addicting. I can spend a good half hour just getting lost in home design shots, recipes, and travel pics.
But if you already feel overwhelmed by social networks, you won't miss the boat by skipping Pinterest. You'll probably be just as happy with a few magazine pictures and quotes pinned on the corkboard over your desk (or on the walls of your room — I won't tell).