2014 has been a tipping point for Pinterest, in which the site has gone from visual social network to visual search engine. Increasingly, Pinterest is not a site for socializing with friends but instead, a place to laser-focus in on your specific favorite things.
On Thursday, Pinterest launched a new way to track your interests in the form of a Follow button. Since the beginning of the year, Pinterest has had an “Explore” option in which the site’s algorithm attempts to suggest topics that are appealing to you, like hiking or climbing. Click on the Explore button and you’ll get a row of computer-generated related topics like “Ice Climbing.”
If you click on any related topics and press the red Follow button in the upper right hand corner. You’ll get Pinterest pins, or images, from that category regularly delivered to your main feed.
The Hegemony Of The Visual Web
Following people has never been the focus of Pinterest. People come to Pinterest to find material and content on things they are interested in. A reinforced emphasis on topics was inevitable for Pinterest. Following another person on Pinterest has never been about adopting that person’s entire presence into your feed, but only the places where your interests overlap.
However, the follow button is also indicative of a Visual Web-wide trend. Tumblr, and just recently Imgur, give users the ability to follow topic tags they find interesting. As each of these sites comes to the same conclusion independently, it indicates that as the Visual Web comes into its own, each of its denizens is tackling a similar problem.
The problem here is clearly image overload. Without some way to discover specific images, like Pinterest’s guided search or Imgur’s new tags, users will only see the most popular topics and content. Imgur CEO Alan Schaaf sought to expose the “dark matter” of Imgur; Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann adds an element of serendipity. Silbermann said, “Pinterest at its heart is about discovering things you didn’t even know were there.”
There are now more than 30 billion pins on Pinterest, so the possibility of relevant images never getting viewed by interested audiences is very real. Pinterest has a strong motivator—in the form of advertisers using its Promoted Pins tool—to make sure these images are seen.
For the first half of 2014, Pinterest focused on getting the algorithm to meet users halfway, assessing their passions both through the Interests tool and through guided search. Now, the Follow tool is putting the other half of the equation in users’ hands.
Perhaps the reason Tumblr, Imgur and Pinterest are finding follow tools helpful is because they don’t have to actually limit the amount of content there is to be shown. The ability to follow or unfollow, to narrow or expand their onsite experience, is in the user’s hands.
Image courtesy of Pinterest