Pinterest is a Database of Human Intentions

If you pin something to a board, the name of that board is a string and that string by definition describes it. Someone else pins the same thing to another board. And on and on. One board says shirts, one says ikat, one says gifts for my wife, one says red things. And most pins are on thousands and thousands of boards. So there are thousands of human-generated strings that describe each of these objects. These are descriptions that are very meaningful to the people who created them. It’s not someone trying to make a machine smarter. And we think it will make a machine smarter because it will solve a human problem.

What is Pinterest? A Database of Intentions

And later, on NPR’s Fresh Air, Alexis Madrigal, the author of the post above, expands on what Pinterest can do with these “strings used to describe objects”

By letting people copy and label images, Pinterest created this rich database of persons, places and things. And it is just beginning to use that data to help people find stuff. With a programming team that’s largely been hired away from Google, Pinterest has begun offering what it calls “guided search.”

Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp told me that guided search helps you find things you didn’t know that you were looking for. If Google is great when you know exactly what you want, Pinterest can help you figure out what you want. As you search, Pinterest will suggest tags that you could add to help narrow your query. Search for hats on Pinterest and you might get “fedora” or “baseball” or “church lady” as suggestions.

Back in 2003, John Battelle was blogging about The Database of Intentions as, “The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result” as an artifact of created by our interactions with search indexes creating, “a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes” of all humankind.

Back in 2003, the database was still made up of links manually added and clicks manually clicked. Today, screen-scrapers, bots, and click-farms automate much of what used to be a human activity. So much so that the human intent is lost.

So much so that Pinterest’s competitive advantage is to put the human back into discovery.

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