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Opinion: Should you care about Pinterest?

If you're a collector, visual thinker, or retail business, the answer is yes

by Alexandra Chang, Macworld.com   Mar 1, 2012

Some call it (p)insanity. Others are straight up addicted to pinning. And still, there are those who just don’t get it.

Pinterest is undeniably the social networking darling of 2012. The site launched in beta-mode in March 2010 and remains an invite-only network. Despite its exclusivity, Pinterest’s user base soared past the 10-million mark in December, and according to Google DoubleClick, now has 21 million worldwide unique visitors per month. But is this site just another blip on the trend-o-meter or something that’s worth your attention? After spending some time with it myself, I found that what makes Pinterest noteworthy is not just what it does, but who uses it and why.

From tacky to timelyTo be honest, I hated Pinterest when I first saw it. The site lets you “pin” linked images from the web onto personal pinboards, and follow your friends’ pinboards as well. To me, the homepage looked like a messy collage—I was overwhelmed by the barrage of food, clothes, and chic-looking room photos spread across the screen.

But last November I decided to decorate my cubicle and needed a place to collect all of the links of office products I found online. Instead of saving notes and URLs in a a draft email message like I usually do, I decided to create an “Office stuff” board where I could see all of my cubicle toys and tools on a single page. And it was easy to go back, whether on my MacBook or my iOS device, to see where I found the Battleship USB hub or the standing animal calendars.

It happened again a few months later. I got a color consultation as a holiday gift and wanted to look for clothes that matched my color palette. (I’m a Vital Spring, by the way.) I logged back into Pinterest to start pinning clothing. Pinterest drew me in when I was in the mood to hunt the Internet for stuff and collect all of my finds visually. Since the site is inherently social—you can repin, like, and comment on pins—my followers and even random Pinterest users would interact with what I posted.

And yes, it does feel good when this happens. Besides collecting my finds, I liked that it was so easy to give and receive feedback on the site. Just remember to be nice (Pinterest’s number #1 rule).

Who is and isn’t pinning? The vast majority of people on Pinterest are women—females make up 82 percent of U.S. users. But outside of the United States, Pinterest users are often mostly male—they make up 57 percent in the United Kingdom, 79 percent in Japan, and 74 percent in France. (Data from Google AdPlanner.) What’s most notable about Pinterest’s audience is that they aren’t the typical early adopters of technology—for example, Google+ is dominated by tech industry folks and engineers; two-thirds of its users are male.

“The cool thing is that [Pinterest] tapped into a community that a lot of other sites have not been able to grasp,” Meghan Peters, Community Manager at Mashable said. “They’ve been able to reach that very casual user who is not necessarily on the computer all of the time.”

Still, the usual early adopters—tech journalists, for instance, are going wild writing about Pinterest. The New York Times covered Pinterest two weeks ago. Columnist David Pogue hasn’t pinned anything since. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal wrote two pieces on Pinterest, but his recent Pinterest activity is limited to the two days his articles went up. The same goes for a lot of tech journalists. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest is not the social media solution to news broadcasting. Its users are doing something else entirely. But what?

A lot of what gets pinned on Pinterest is aspirational—what could be, what I’m going to have, where I’m going to go,” said Gartner senior research analyst Jenny Sussin. What sets Pinterest apart from other social networks is that it isn’t about sharing what’s happening to you right now, it’s about sharing and collecting what you like and what you want and what inspires you.

Some of bloggers I talked with who use Pinterest say they depend on it as a personal tool rather than a social one. “I am always saving images for inspiration, future post ideas, and projects, so I use Pinterest every day,” said Joy Cho of Oh Joy. “It’s just fun looking at a beautiful page of images that make me happy and inspire my work.” Visual bookmarking isn’t a totally new idea—sites like Ffffound have offered similar features. Pinterest just does it better.