Pinteresting - An Application Critique

An important caveat at the start - I only made a Pinterest account earlier today, so the comments and critiques that follow are going to be biased towards new user onboarding and basic functionality, and not power-user level stuff.

I quite liked the Pinterest presentation - it had a very clear structure and allowed me to get main thrusts of their argument pretty well. Three key takeaways from the presentation for me was the description of Pinterest from the user point of view (aka why use Pinterest), its high commercial potential due to high referral traffic, and good and bad points on its UI-UX.

Why Use Pinterest

The group's initial introduction of Pinterest focussed on its image sharing and curation capabilities, and its high-quality pictures as opposed to sources like Google Image Search. The use case presented was for a designer browsing Pinterest for inspiration as well as assets to use in presentation decks, websites and so on.

While this is definitely a great feature, no doubt contributing to its high popularity in the design crowd, I think that undersells Pinterest. Personally, I had never felt the need to sign up as I did not have any urgent need for this service. For assets and so on, I preferred Flickr, which allowed searching for free-to-use pictures as well as various free icon websites. Also, my impression of Pinterest was that it was appealing to a different demographic with a focus on design, handicraft, and fashion - none of which especially appealed to me.

But having been forced to take it out for a spin, I found myself quite liking the service. The inspiration aspect was definitely there, as having a set of motivational quotes in pretty fonts / with pretty backgrounds is always good. Even better if it is parodied.

However, what I found most fascinating is that, at the end, Pinterest is also a much prettier bookmarking service. For all its focus on images, Pinterest pins are also links to sites (unlike Instagram etc). I can really see myself using Pinterest boards to organize links that I want to visit again (projects I want to try, design ideas, lists of books to read etc.) since it provides a much better interface for browsing than the traditional bookmark bar. Currently, I have primarily been using Pocket for this - but while Pocket excels at formatting text for reading, it doesn't handle images, code samples and so on very well. Pinterest doesn't try to - just storing the URL itself. It also uses an image from the website to act as a pictorial presentation on the board. I hugely appreciated that its 'default' images (if the URL had no pictures) were also quite pretty.

Business Potential

The presenting group argued that Pinterest had a strong business potential due to the high referral traffic brands can generate from users virally sharing their pins. I found it quite convincing that since Pinterest pins always link back to the main site, they are potentially more succesful in generating traffic than sharing on other social media. The group also talked about existing businesses like Mcdonalds,Audi and Coca-Cola using Pinterest as part of their marketing strategy, the relatively high average income of Pinterest users, and the ability to target ads by category and taste. All these factors, along with a hugh and growing user base, have helped Pinterest reach a valuation of 5 billion USD.

I believe that advertising on Pinterest offers higher value to companies than media like Facebook or Twitter. The reason is that ads on Pinterest would probably be seen at search, and therefore be seen at the point of 'intent' (when the user already wants to check something out). This is the reason why Google ads, seen when searching, are far more valuable than Facebook ads, which are just an annoyance at the side of the News Feed. It seems Pinterest recognizes this as being key, as their home page's tagline is 'Get discovered by millions of people looking for things to plan, buy and do.' This hypothesis seems to be borne out by data as well - this article mentions that Pinterest visitors were 20% more valuable than average for websites.

That being said, I personally am disappointed every time large social websites pick advertising as their business model. It seems to be the 'easy' answer and has crowded out every other potential model. Unfortunately, I don't have any better ideas to offer.

User Onboarding and UI - UX

The group raised both good and bad points about Pinterest's User Interface and User Experience aspects. They praised the 'Pin It' browser extension which allowed quick Pins to be mentioned when an URL was already open in the browser. They also pointed out the good categorization and curation capabilities in Pinterest to find content. On the other hand, the group also raised issues with the search bar on the home page, raisin concerns about what certain buttons do.

While I largely agree with the group's points, I felt the curation could have been better. At this stage, it seems that I have to follow individual boards rather than follow 'Topics' - which I believe would be much more helpful. These 'Topics' seem to be available for search, but not for follow. The 'Pin It' button is a huge plus though, it makes pinning new things a huge breeze and helped me get started extremely quickly.

In Conclusion

I have been pleasantly surprised by my experience with Pinterest, and am interested to find out whether I would integrate it with my workflow as I have done Pocket. While the onboarding was fast enough to get me started easily, it remains to be seen whether it offers me enough long-term value to keep going back.