Pinterest: Pinning Success to the Board

If Instagram became successful by allowing users the opportunity to create albums and streams of content captured straight from their lives, would it be possible to find just as much success if the material was nothing but material created elsewhere? Perhaps we should ask one of the most successful start-ups of recent history, Pinterest.

Pinterest, a pin-board for users world-wide to put together a board of themes, topics and content from almost anywhere they please. Though, be prepared to see a lot of wedding stuff.

The site itself came to fruition in December 2009 by creators Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciara. The more official launch occurred in March 2010 through a small, invitation-only beta test that began largely with family members and colleagues. After successful funding, Pinterest was on its way to becoming an interesting new competitor in the social-networking business. Or, is it? Pinterest doesn’t fit the social-networking bill. CEO Ben Silbermann called it more of a “catalog of ideas” in an interview with Fortune Magazine. Asked more about the design and thoughts behind Pinterest, the creators remarked that they hadn’t been influenced or inspired by other services or sites out there – which doesn’t mean that others haven’t taken influence from Pinterest, mind.

Totempool: Pinterest Cofounders

Pinterest Cofounders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp


So, how does it work? As previously mentioned, Pinterest has no content created on-site.

Instead, users register for a free account and use the “pin” button to create a link or copy of what they want to post on their boards. Usually arranged by themes, topics or ideas, the boards allow users to follow a similar method to Instagram by finding like-minded users with similar topics and pins. They are allowed to “re-pin” content in that manner to their own board.

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Totempool: Pinterest Homefeed

Pinterest Homefeed


Essentially, Pinterest is largely a photo-sharing website, though videos and other materials can be pinned, that relies on outside content. It is used heavily by both casual users, typically in the older female demographic, and businesses as well for trending styles of advertisements. It has been host to some significant moments, most notable in the 2012 Presidential election in the US, with the wives of either candidate broadcasting their accounts. It’s boom in popularity seems to make sense, even when you take into context the ambiguous beginnings and unclear direction that the creators seemed to want Pinterest to go. Aside from the usual worries of start-ups, there was the issue of copyright to worry about. Anyone who does social networking or writing for a living can tell you that copyright infringement is a scary thing, and one you have to be especially careful to avoid. With a site built on reposting content from all over the web, it would seem like issues would be abundant. Pinterest has stated that they operate under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. For those who don’t want to go through a ton of legal jargon, it basically means that they feel that the right to knowledge for the public is more important than the author’s property rights. Not to say that they are without sympathy to the content’s owner. Pinterest developed several manners to give credit where it was due: a notification system for copyright holders to request their property be taken down, a “nopin” HTML meta tag that websites could use to opt out of letting their material be pinned and automatic attribution of material from several websites, including Flickr. Since March 2012, no major lawsuits, so they must be doing something right.

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Like Facebook, Pinterest would go on to make the usage data available to various marketers. Surveys are taken on which products or brands are pinned the most as a gauge of how popular it is and what market is the most interested. It has proven very useful to businesses, both as a platform for advertising and engaging their customers and as assisting from a marketing standpoint. That has ruffled some feathers as well as their terms of service, which very obviously state that anything posted on their site belongs to them; didn’t work so well for Instagram, did it? In much the same way, after enough complaints had been made, Pinterest followed the Instagram method and updated their terms of service with the claim that they had never intended to sell anything – good dodge, but not the end of their problems.

Scammers took advantage of the platform to get unsuspecting users to have them pin the scam give-away events, then re-pin them back on their boards. The phony pins fished the user’s information and never delivered on the products promised. Pinterest initially also had no mobile release, so opportunistic scammers put out some look-alikes that tracked and stole user’s info. Pinterest responded by looking into the scam-postings and releasing an official mobile app.

At present, Pinterest is still one of the top websites in a global ranking. With more than 100 million monthly active users (MAUs) confirmed in 2015, and a demographic that very closely mirrors global internet use, it is interesting in to follow the success story of the start-up. From a free site that required an invitation to join, to a now open site that relies on content made by everyone else but them, it is hard to categorize it. A photo-sharing site, a catalog of ideas and information or a sort of book-marking site, it has proven a success with ad-revenue, the sale of user data and funding from numerous parties. It’s still getting into the swing of success stories, so who knows where it will go?

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One thing is clear – Pinterest is a great example of how a start-up can succeed, and another show of a platform that is opening up more of the world to one another. It’s becoming more and more easy to find others with the same interests, to see interesting and creative work you might never have seen before and to watch the events of the world unfold.



Amber Colyer

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Categories:   Entrepreneurship