Is Pinterest the next big thing or just another digital flash in the pan?
The social networking site has been growing rapidly in recent months, and many are spending a good portion of their online hours there.
Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board, where people post images of the things they like, own or want to own, things they've made and things that are meaningful to them, places they've been and more. It combines elements of social networking (such as Facebook and Twitter) with digital scrapbooking.
It takes the concept of social media in a new direction. People can share things they find on the Web, browse boards that others create and connect with people with similar interests in a new way.
Its mission is "to connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting," according to the Pinterest site. "We think that a favorite book, toy or recipe can reveal a common link between two people. With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests."
It's a visually rich site. Pinterest is built around strong graphic design and minimal text, with unlimited boards loaded with colorful photos. Browsing Pinterest can be addictive -- it's like spending a free afternoon with a stack of glossy magazines.
Cultural anthropologists could dig through Pinterest boards for years gleaning insights into contemporary lifestyles and aspirations. There are as many uses for Pinterest as there are people using it. Some of the most popular: planning weddings or vacations, decorating homes, shopping for clothing and sharing favorite recipes.
Meredith Blake Matthews is an early adopter who has been using Pinterest personally and professionally for the past six months.
"I get a lot of do-it-yourself ideas -- things I want to do someday," Ms. Matthews said. She likes the way content is arranged on the site, which she finds easy to navigate and search. "It's not as linear as Facebook or Twitter. You go back and you don't have to sort through months and months of posts."
As director of public relations for Pittsburgh-based Chemistry Communications, she's also exploring its potential for some of the agency's clients.
Some online retailers are seeing an increase in site traffic thanks to Pinterest postings, and "Pin It" icons are popping up next to the ubiquitous Facebook Like button and the Twitter's "Follow" button on some sites. And it's already becoming a powerful social media word-of-mouth vehicle.
"Something can go viral very quickly," Ms. Matthews said. "We don't have any benchmarks at this point, but we're at the stage where we're saying [to clients] keep this on your radar. We're definitely telling people to start thinking about it."
Cold Brew Labs Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., launched Pinterest in 2010, but it's only been in the past few months that it has become a household word. The site has seen explosive growth: By January, it had passed the 11 million mark for unique visitors, compared to 4.9 million in November.
Most Pinterest members are women in their 20s and 30s, and retailers are already exploiting Pinterest as a way to reach this target audience.
Pinterest pinboards fall into many categories, including art, architecture, crafts, travel, people, pets, fitness, food, fashion, tech gadgets, kids and weddings.
Users can add photos to existing boards or create their own. They can use the "Pin It" button to add images from websites, which automatically link back to the source, or they can upload their own photos. Every image posted has three buttons -- a Facebook-style Like button, a re-pin button and a comment button. Like Twitter, users can follow other Pinterest user's boards, and re-pin images that they like.
There's a video section, where people share their favorite videos. There's a section for popular postings -- things that have generated many re-pins. Finally, there's a gifts section, where items are categorized by price, starting at $1 to $20 and going up to $500+.
Website owners can make it easy for people to link their images or products to Pinterest by adding a "Pin It" button to their site pages. And site owners concerned with copyright issues who don't want their content uploaded to Pinterest can add code to their site that automatically prevents this from happening.
There are several other sites with a similar look and feel, although so far none has gained the kind of social media traction that Pinterest has.
Scoop.it enables users to create their own online magazine with illustrated posts. Gentlemint is the male counterpart to the female-dominated Pinterest. Instead of pictures of clothing or desserts, viewers will find a bottle opener shaped like a bullet and motorcycles, for example. Gentlemint is in beta and currently accepting invitation requests.
Path is a photo journal for smartphones that allows users to share photos, music and videos with friends on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare or on their Path friend network. The Path app is available for Android and iPhone. Other image sharing and scrapbooking sites include Fffound, We Heart It and Yay!Everyday.
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