Web

Review: Getting Stuck on Pinterest

A social curation startup makes collecting, and sharing, Web images surprisingly addictive.

Until about a week ago, I was awful at cataloging my online finds. I’d discover something I liked or wanted—say a photo of a sweater-clad penguin or a new smart phone—and then either leave a tab open on my browser as a reminder or, more likely, navigate elsewhere on the Web and promptly forget about it.

Mix and match: Pinterest lets you collect and organize images and videos online. A collection of tech-related pins is shown here.

Then I discovered Pinterest. The largest of a growing number of so-called social curation sites, Pinterest lets users corral images and videos of everything from tasty food to wedding dresses on virtual bulletin boards, and also discover those created by friends and strangers. Some people use the site simply to collect pretty pictures; others employ it to help plan weddings, keep track of good recipes or items they want to buy. Most people, I suspect, are using it for many different things at once.

Pinterest isn’t the first or only site of its kind, but it’s far and away the hottest, due, in part, to its clever design and relative ease of use. Its popularity may also be due to the fact that Pinterest isn’t even publicly available. Anyone can search for pins and people, but to add your own pins to the site, you need to either request an invite from the Pinterest folks, or beg a friend who’s already using the site to let you in.

While this hurdle might turn off some potential users, it seems to have created the sense of exclusivity that’s added to the buzz. It’s worth asking for an invitation. I recently started using the site, and despite some irritations, I’m hooked.

Once you get into the club, Pinterest is pretty self-explanatory. New users start off with a number of virtual pin boards, which have names like “Products I Love” and “For the Home.” You can change the names of these boards, delete them, and make others, too. You can also create boards that groups of your friends can add items to—something that could come in handy for collecting ideas for a group gift or simply creating an online repository of interesting photos.

In order to start “pinning” items you find on the Web, you install a “Pin It” button on your browser’s bookmarks bar. You can also upload photos you want to pin, or repost anything you see on the site by hovering over the image and clicking the “Repin” button. (There’s a mobile app, too, but since I still do most of my image-browsing on the Web I stuck with that for this review.)

After I set up the browser button, I immediately let my inner magpie fly. I started looking all over the Web for cool things to pin, which in my mind ranged from gadgets to furniture to intricately-painted fingernails. I also started following a bunch of my friends who were already using the site. (Pinterest mines Facebook to find your buddies automatically, but you can also search for friends manually.)

Though I started using it with no clear goal, I quickly realized that, for me, Pinterest functions as a sort of aspirational online holding area. I pinned all the cycling-related gear I lust after but don’t want to commit to buying just yet and all the beautiful clothing and accessories I would never allow myself to purchase. I pinned paint schemes and furniture I’d like to put in a home I don’t yet own, and recipes I’d like to attempt.

I loved the way my burgeoning pin boards look cascading brightly down a browser page. And I enjoyed exploring other people’s boards, too, adding gems from their collections to my own. But the real rush came when people started commenting on, liking, and repinning my pins. One image I posted of some seafoam-colored roller skates elicited 13 likes and 56 repins.

It wasn’t long before I found myself constantly checking to see who had repinned, liked or commented on my posts. One afternoon, when the site refused to load, I got really impatient—I was pining for more pinning.

Despite its general addictiveness, some of Pinterest’s features are clunky and lacking. Pinning images, for example, requires several steps: First, you spot the item you want to pin—say, a sweet orange couch you noticed on a design blog. Then, you click “Pin It.” This creates an overlay filled with all the main photos contained on the page you were just looking at, and the images’ sizes. Click the one you want, and a smaller window pops up asking you to describe the image, categorize it, and pin it.

This should be simpler. In fact, a similar site, called Fancy, makes this same process a lot easier: When a user clicks the “Fancy it” button on the browser’s bookmarks bar, a little popup window lets users scroll through the page’s images and select one. Or, you can just mouse over images directly on the website you were browsing and click to choose the one you want.

Pinterest could also use some other functions, like the ability to create private boards or to rearrange items on a board simply by dragging them around on the browser page. And it would be nice if it could suggest people for me to follow based on our common pinning habits.

Overall, though, Pinterest makes it fairly easy to curate all sorts of images I come across in my online travels. If you can snag an invite, it’s definitely a site worth getting stuck on.

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