Picture Martha Stewart in her heyday as domestic goddess. Add in the self-expression of personal blogs and the viral connectivity of Facebook, and you have the Internet's hottest new social media darling.
It is called Pinterest, an online bulletin board with Midwestern roots that is attracting millions of new members each month.
Dreamed up by Iowan and Yale University graduate Ben Silbermann two years ago, Pinterest has been attracting women in droves with its eye-candy photos of do-it-yourself crafts, fanciful recipes, dream kitchens and wedding inspirations. The site is in essence an idea factory, where individuals create their own set of virtual display boards, "pin" photos of things that inspire them and share them with friends and followers.
"I have moved away from other social media so I can spend more time on Pinterest," said Deb Thompson, 42, a mom from Cadillac, Mich. "They have the golden ticket on that. For me, I love all the creativity that is there. It's a little escape."
Thompson, who runs the blog Just Short of Crazy, caught the Pinterest bug last month when she pinned a photo of a martini glass with a chalkboard base that allowed guests to write their names on their glasses and erase them when the party is over. Anyone who clicked on the image arrived at her blog where they found directions on how to create the party goblet.
This isn't your typical Silicon Valley startup. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which first gained traction among young adult men living on the U.S. coasts, Pinterest found its first followers in the heartland. The biggest fans initially were middle-age moms living in cities such as Minneapolis and Chicago, eager to swap recipes and share tips on decorating their homes and raising their children.
"Many of the first people to try the site (pinners) were from my hometown, Des Moines," said Silbermann, 29, reached by email at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. "As they invited their friends and family, more and more people from the Midwest joined."
After moving to California to work for Google, Silbermann decided to build a website that would allow people to put their collections online. He started the company in November 2009 out of his apartment and quietly launched the site in March 2010, inviting people in his personal network to join.
Pinterest went unnoticed for almost a year. Then it caught fire.
By December 2011, the number of U.S. unique visitors to Pinterest soared to 7.5 million, up from 418,000 in May, according to comScore Inc., a Chicago-based Internet research firm. That is a steeper ascent in traffic than the early days of Facebook, Twitter or MySpace, said comScore analyst Andrew Lipsman.
"There is something about the site that's so inherently viral," said Lipsman. "That's why it's growing so quickly."
Pinterest has been a boon in particular to the mommy blog community and to the artisan shopping website Etsy.com, helping bloggers and designers find a wider audience.
Since joining Pinterest in April, Amy Clark, 34, has seen the number of unique visitors to her blog, Mom Advice, jump by 100,000 page views a month.
"I really think this has changed the ballgame for us, because it brought in people who haven't been reading blogs before," said Clark, who is raising a family in Granger, Ind.
Contrary to the unattainable perfection that surrounded Martha Stewart's early days of homemaking advice, Pinterest is filled with suggestions for moms short on time and eager for some collective humor.
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