Technology

Our Pinterest is Piqued

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This article is re-posted from User Centric’s blog.

Pinterest is quickly growing into one of the most popular websites on the internet, thanks to inspired execution of a fairly simple concept. For anyone left who needs a two sentence introduction toPinterest, the site is equal parts bookmarking tool and digital scrapbook. It is a place to save pictures we adore, presented like the long-columned newspapers of old, but in an endless front page.  It is an elegantly straightforward interface that helps members highlight images they like, and return to sites they don’t want to forget.

The strength of the Pinterest interface lies not primarily in what it does, but in sharp contrast to all that it doesn’t.

While it is considered a social network because it allows members to view each other’s content, it is really quite different from the popular networks today: unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, the bio screen provides space for a brief description, and the closest tool to identifying friends or connection is with a “following” label. However, unlike Twitter, there are only roundabout methods for writing directly to other members. The UI tools cater specifically to enjoying imagery, making pictures the foundation of everything presented on Pinterest, with even lengthy descriptions and long comment chains truncated to keep the design focused on the images themselves. This intentional shift away from standard social networking tools or a focus on the written word helps keep each member’s content groups, called “boards,” looking less like the jumbled content on a Facebook “wall,” and much more like the pleasant clutter in a well-loved home.

Pinterest demonstrates how a lack of certain tools helps inform members how to use the tools that are provided.

For instance, members seldom load personal pictures one by one onto designated boards (like early Facebook users did using “albums”), instead they frequently use the well-designed “pin” feature to gather content from the internet at large. Similarly, the bio screen keep links to Facebook and Twitter accounts, so members seldom try to communicate directly with each other, but instead utilize those other services. By doing this, Pinterest reminds members that it is designed for a specific purpose, and tools to fulfill other needs lie outside the application.

Today Pinterest allows members to share boards and tag other members in descriptions, without concern that these features will clutter the experience. Rather, these added tools still reinforce the site’s core functionality about developing member content for the members themselves, not for reaching out to others.

Perhaps one of the surprising uses of Pinterest is as a picture based social search engine, with members acting as aggregators and filters.

Search for a recipe by title, and get artful photos of the final product, or comedic attempts to replicate the original. This kind of searching helps cater the experience for sales conversion, a topic recentlystudied in detail.
Pinterest is a young phenomenon, however, and some features still have kinks to be worked out. For instance, in addition to the “repin” button, the tool that lets members repost and save pins they like, there is a vestigial “like” button, allowing members to highlight “pinned” images, but not save them. Despite being less committal, members “like” far less than they “repin.” Also, when searching, images appear seemingly as often as they have been pinned, so one popular image, or spam, appears over and over again, cluttering potential for effective results. These, however, are minor points in an otherwise highly focused and successful interface.

Just as scrapbooks are inherently fun for the ones who make them, and also in showing them off, the fundamental draw to Pinterest is that it provides members with a beautiful and easy way to hold on to things from the web that they’d love to see again; the fact that other people can watch as they build gives it the social tenor to further excite members. The real success of this site has been in identifying exactly which tools are relevant and which push the website into competition with other social networks, not only for money, but for the attention of its members. Thus far, Pinterest has struck a masterful balance, allowing the right UI tools to seed an excellent user experience. Now, all we have to do is sit back and watch it continue to grow…

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