Tag Archives: pinterest

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.

The Interest in Pinterest

By now I would imagine you’ve all heard of Pinterest. The latest site to cater to our need to collect and curate the world around us has boiled down the act of clip-n-share to it’s most basic form, the image. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then the endless scroll of the Pinterest front page is the modern web’s newspaper.

The site has been around since 2010 but only recently has it jumped into the forefront after a lengthy nurturing period with the Etsy-crafter-design set. Their strategy was smart. Close attention to detail allowed the small team to grow the service naturally and allow the community to gain a voice. Since late last year the site has been growing by leaps and bounds as the Silicon Valley set has taken to the site in droves and driven user growth through the roof (52% growth from January to February to 17.8M uniques according to comScore).

Along with growth comes a host of real world problems. Spam, copyright complaints, user backlash one (affiliate links), and user backlash two (design changes). Even the US Army is on Pinterest. But the Pinterest folk are smart people. They’ll survive and if they do right by their core users, they’ll make it through. The service reminds me of the early days of flickr and I wish them the best of luck.

As a product guy, what is interesting to me is how the Pinterest design motif has popped up overnight. It’s almost as if every site out there is re-thinking itself and the designers all have dynamic grid filters on that only allow them to re-arrange content on the page into floating block-sized chunks. I would argue that what we’re seeing today is as significant as the AJAX-ification of the web we saw in 2005.

Several design trends are converging that are helping along the pintrification (gosh, I hope that doesn’t become a word) of the web.

Tablets – the tap and swipe interaction of tablet devices lends itself to interaction via the visual box metaphor we see today. As a navigation device, it’s a lot easier to tap on an image than a headline so why not make the thumbnail image the thing to click to open up an article?

Metro UI – When Microsoft put on their thinking caps to reinvent the phone ui for their Windows Phone 7, the Metro UI was their primary breakthrough. Inspired by transit system signage, the UI emphasized grouping similar tasks into squares so you would drill into related sub-tasks instead of scrolling through a hierarchical list of folders and files. This same UI is now being adopted in the next version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 8.

jQuery plugin Masonry – comments on a recent CNET article give credit to Masonry as the catalyst of many WordPress themes that took on the grid look.

CSS3 and Responsive Web Design – Since Ethan Marcotte’s manifesto in 2010, and thanks to the evangelism from sites such as Media Queries, we’re seeing more and more sites embrace responsive web design including, most famously, The Boston Globe and Good Magazine.

The conversion of all these trends & technologies will cause an explosion of dynamic grid designs this Summer. Like swoosh logos, rounded corners, brushed aluminum, and all the glossy icons that came before, this new trend will take the web by storm. If you’re interested in turning your own blog into a tablet friendly grid, check out Pressly or Onswipe and join the party.

If the growth trajectory of Pinterest is any indication, the service is off to a great start. Because of it’s growth and because imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the dynamic grid is here to stay.

Pinterest doubled traffic to over 17M in February