Pinterest, it seems, is one of the hottest new startups online - growing fast, piling up almost 10,000 glowing reviews for its iPhone app and now reportedly raising a large sum of money at a 4x pre-money valuation. Perhaps the fact that you and I both are just now hearing about this thriving year-old site after it is raising a lot of money means we're hopelessly behind on this one.I was just such a big dork myself until this afternoon.
Pinterest hasn't gotten a lot of press before, though. That could be because it's a visual bookmarking site used primarily by women (apparently) , and the male-dominated tech press is just less likely to notice success in that sector. It's a great looking service though and a lot of fun to use. There are certainly ways it could be improved, but it's clearly catching on.
The seven person company was co-founded by two Yale graduates, former venture capital analyst Paul Sciarra and Ben Silbermann, a former Google advertising product specialist and creator of a YCombinator quiz product. That's probably part of why Valley VCs are so excited about Pinterest - because it's hip, hot and built by people they can relate to.
How it Works
The idea is that users click on a bookmarklet in their browser when they find images they like on a web page, or they snap a photo with the Pinterest iPhone app, and then they are asked to categorize and describe the images. A collection of categorized images can be built by one person or can be opened up to contributions from other users. Users can then subscribe to an individual collection or to everything another user posts.
It's funny that some people say mainstream users don't want to go to the trouble of categorizing web content, but other people say that there is a core human desire to organize things. Pinterest's early success seems to indicate that people want to organize things when there are beautiful things to organize and the interface for doing so is relatively attractive. There are already Pinterest users with 20,000 followers.
If you're familiar with the Path iPhone app, Pinterest's design is very similar. You can subscribe to people on the web and then look at incoming images they've pinned from your phone. There's also a mobile web version at m.pinterest.com.
Silicon Valley consultant Semil Shah says Pinterest captures what will be a big trend in the future: discovery's primacy over search. Shah argues this has huge commercial potential: people are asked today what they want to search for - in the future they will be aided in their discovery of fabulous things they didn't even know they wanted to buy yet.
For now Pinterest is a site for sharing images about many different things, not just commercial items. There's lots of room for the site to improve. I'd like to be able to see larger versions of images more easily, though that might prevent users from clicking through to the sites they were curated from. Managing the people you follow could be easier too. The site feels a little unfinished, though maybe that's part of its charm. I'd like to subscribe to search results as well as people and collections.
I hope to come back to using it regularly as I do love some good images to look at.
Time will tell what kind of community develops at Pinterest. It will probably be different from ffffound, for example, another site like it that also has an iPhone for image browsing. Taking the Pinterest founders' backgrounds into consideration might help us imagine how it will take shape differently than the culture at ffffound.
User experience, a clean retro visual design, content curation, social collaboration and subscription: those are the things that Pinterest is leveraging to gain a lot of traction and buzz. It's nice to see someone finally do it. It will be interesting to see where the startup goes.