Pinterest is Harnessing Collective Intelligence

I love pinterest. I do. I’m like a newly converted zealot: checking for images I can post on my board, looking back over the images I’ve pinned and seeing if there are new inspirations I can find and include. My name is Amanda and I’m a pinaddict.

I used to keep inspirational images  through my bookmarks – using pinterest I could visually categorise and organise these images on a single page, a much better result achieved in minutes – I was immediately rewarded. The application very kindly suggested some expert pinsters I should follow and I was intuitively led along the social aspects of the platform: these expert pinsters modelling the social etiquette required by the platform.

Each time I pinned an image, other users would be re-pinning my images leading me to repin other images myself. The more each of the millions of users pins images onto their boards the richer the images database becomes and building a collective categorisation and structure of individual images from across the web.

Users build valuable intelligence explicitly through suggesting categorisation of image collections and implicitly through how they group images, what images they like and which other groups they follow. When I land on the pinterest site I see a very different view of latest images (from users I haven’t explicitly followed) than I see when I login with my account. When I login with my account I see images that clearly reference my own boards, perhaps images of actors from the glory days of Edith Head’s costume designing, reflecting my many images of her designs. Evidence that pinterest is building a deeper taxonomy of images than the explicit user categorisation.

Something that pinterest does particularly well is that it extends the network effect to other platforms such as blogs. Each image is linked to its source, leading interested users to look further into the source, for example, for the recipe for a delicious looking dessert, or for more images from the same photographer.

There is a clear value to advertisers who are happy to exploit a more passive way to advertise. Retail products with images that appeal may be linked back to the shops online presence or linked through attribution in the comment, depending on the source of the image. It will be interesting to see which advertisers are successful navigating this sales channel, I suspect it won’t be those with explicit sales pitches, rather it will be those that successfully create attractive images and those that engage with the community through creating their own boards, liking, pinning and repinning other users’ images. Unlike other social media applications in their infancy, like facebook and twitter, it is easy to see a path from advertisers making money to the platform returning value to its investors. Whether this is a path that will be followed will be interesting to watch.

Pinterest is a relative youngster on the social media scene and it has been very effective in engaging with its community to improve the application: one case in point being Kirsten Kowalski who raised copyright issues and has since engaged with her as an individual and through her to the wider community to work out how to address these.


23 thoughts on “Pinterest is Harnessing Collective Intelligence

  1. I found your post fascinating Amanda, firstly I have never heard of Pinterest. So if I’m correct, the concept is about people from around the world basically making a scrapbook of their favourite pictures to share with friends, or the public or whoever they choose? I can definitely see the advantages for personal use to show friends holidays pics etc for this, as well as business use.

    Secondly the point on female users traditionally being quicker to take up social media, is this true? I wouldn’t have picked that at all.

    • Hi Brett, I think you’ve given me a good lesson in how to write assignments for uni – I wasn’t very accurate with my comment on women being quicker to take up social media. The statistics I’ve found show women are the leading users and more active users compared with men: I’ll do a bit more research tonight and will update my post to be based on better research. Thanks!

      • “Comscore says women are the majority of users of social networking sites and spend 30% more time on these sites than men; mobile social network usage is 55% female according to Nielsen.” Okay this is what I based that assumption on, but it’s too much of a stretch. I’ll take the paragraph out until I can get a better understanding of the stats. I think it’s really interesting to see such a marked gender division for an application that could be used for all kinds of uses, I’m keen to understand why this difference exists.

      • Is that because we’re smarter users of technology 😉 Seriously though, I do wonder about gender differences in how we consume social media. I wonder if pinterest is appealing to the different ways women and men process visual information. Then there seem to be differences in how we maintain social connections that facebook taps into so well.

  2. I’ve never used Pinterest either and really enjoyed this blog post. It sure is a very good example of the “synapsis” that connect different content in the web.
    How would you say it is in a network effect context? Is it more valuable to you the more of your friends who use it, or would you still use Pinterest even if it was just you on there?

    • It’s a good question – I think the network effect I get value from is the images that are targetted at me after I log in. I have found some images that have been very useful, that I doubt I would have found otherwise. I don’t really get much out of the social aspects of the application, I’m not that sociable :-), rather it’s the network effect of the many users who have collected images together. As I mentioned, I love the designs of Edith Head, those vintage dresses are gorgeous, and because pinterest has so many users who have collected images together of vintage dresses, I find that many of the images pinterest is putting on my home page are ones that match my taste, and so I pin them to my ‘dress’ board.

      • That is actually quite cool, and convenient! Now its just too bad with the legal twist going on about the copyright and so on. This is surely a tool can be useful to a lot of people 🙂

  3. I’m loving Pinterest too… it’s great to use as an online mood board as it groups all your inspiration in one place. Although it has a broad target audience, I think it’s really good to use with fashion, makeup & interior decorating + design.

    Have you heard of Polyvore? It’s been around longer than Pinterest and is an awesome fashion inspiration website + search engine. Check it out:

  4. I have never used Pinterest, but this is very interesting. If what I understood is correct, this seems to be a very useful website to advertise something.

    On the other hand, I wonder whether there is any way to control access to mine or not. If not, it might be a problem because some users might not want to show theirs to a specific person. If there is some way to control it, is it different from the way used on Facebook?

    • From what I can see, controlling access is less important on this applicastion, compared to facebook. It seems to be quite different from facebook in how it’s currently being used. People generally aren’t putting up personal photos, like holiday snaps, as many people tend to on facebook. The images being posted are more impersonal. Having said that it is possible to control who can see your boards, and you can provide quite open access for anyone to pin things on your board, or just specific people. I haven’t yet seen the google+ feature creeping in of having groups of people and managing their access. It’s such a fast growing application I think it will be interesting to see what’s adopted from other social media platforms and how the usage changes.

  5. First time i heard of pinterest and its defintely one that i’m sure my gf will like. Most of the items I clicked on, doesn’t show prices or where to get these items. I know it ‘s not meant to be like ebay but is that the way site was intented? To share interest?

    • For me it’s more selfish than wanting to share interests. I’ve been using it to collate images together that I’ll use as inspiration for dressmaking. The social side of sharing interests is definitely there, eg I could allow my friends to also post onto my ‘dresses and shoes’ board but not something that I’ve made much use of.

  6. Hi Amanda,
    Your blog post is very interesting. I never used Pinterest before but heard about it a lot.

    Actually as an amateur photographer, I am more concern about the copyright issue in Pinterest. As example, I uploaded some of my works at Flickr with Public setting but those photos are not under CC license, means the photos are copyrighted. However, with Pinterest, people use my photos for their personal purposes without my permission.

    The other reason why I am not using Pinterest is because I am a bit scare with the data that Pinterest can get from me. For example, since Google changed it privacy policy, I have to make sure I log out from any Google networks before I watch videos on YouTube. This is because I don’t want Google (using Google Analytics) tracks what I watch and know my interest then use it for their marketing campaign.

    Anyway, it might also interesting to know the motivation of the Pinterest user whether it is for personal or collaborative benefit. What do you think?

    • You raise a really good point, there’s a lot of discussion and some controversy over copyright on pinterest. I can understand the serious concern for photographers that put their skill and creativity into making beautiful images that are then used by someone else who builds a reputation or following for a great collection of inspirational images without any explicit attribution let alone compensation to the original artist.

      I think the personal vs collaborative benefit for users is quite different for different individuals. I’m not sure that the applicaiotn is driving users one way or another, the collaborative benefit overall is more implicit. It may be that usage patterns over time will swing people to use it more collaboratively or more personally.

  7. Wow!, I’d keep a scrapbook with list of photos but never thought you could do that online! Amazing. Thank you for a good read.

  8. I’ve only just started using Pinterest and just after it was mentioned in class. It’s a nice visual experience, however I reserve my further comments based on the usability of the site as time goes on , my only fear is the social media fatigue that might eventually happen from having so many sites and applications. Facebook is starting to get heavy and quite a task.

  9. Hey there Amanda thanks for the interesting read, i have never used Pinterest as i am not much of a social media addict, Facebook is about it for me but maybe i will look into some more after reading your post. I like the way you linked Pinterest into the topic of Harnessing collective intelligence, as i have not used many sites like this i didn’t even know how immensely Pinterest could support an online presence. Thanks again for the beautiful insight into something that i had never heard of before!

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