Why Pinterest Isn’t Such a Big Deal

26 March, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Everyone these days is talking about how Pinterest is the next big thing. It’s suddenly taking off, and it’s driving enormous amounts of web traffic. It grew 52 percent in one month. Some people are concerned over Pinterest’s possible run-ins with intellectual property law, but the company appears to be proactively dealing with that and has just released new terms of service.

I think what is being missed in all of this is that Pinterest isn’t a particularly unique concept, and that always spells trouble when you’re trying to carve out significant market share. Just ask the folks at Google - Google+ fails as an alternative to Facebook because it tried to be Facebook all over again, which is something Facebook does really well and Google+ doesn’t. Pinterest’s problem is a little bit different. It’s not really trying to follow in anyone’s footsteps (though I believe it’s predated by sites like vi.sualize.us and imgfav) but it’s just too easy to imitate to offer anything really special. Pinterest is essentially just a bunch of hyperlinked, comment-enabled images. Anyone can make a site like this, and many have. Pinterest-style sites I’ve seen include Snip.it (which I find more functional than Pinterest), Fancy (which lets you buy the things that people have pinned), and Gentlemint and Manteresting (which are just male-oriented Pinterest knock offs.) These are just closer to the business model of Pinterest, but there are plenty of other image-sharing pinboard-type sites that are primarily just popularity-ranked image dumps, many of which have been around for years.

What does all of this fragmentation mean? It means that the Pinterest model – which involves the sharing of information anchored around visual themes – is definitely taking off, but all the love won’t happen in one big bucket. Pinterest just happens to be the biggest and most well-known of the pinboard sites at the moment. But if there’s anywhere that we’re likely to see an increase in niche social networking, it’s in this sort of space. Not everyone wants to join a scaled-down version of Facebook for their particular interest group. But if you wanted to browse a Pinterestesque board dedicated strictly to robotic projects, say, or do-it-yourself creations, then you may not want to wade through thousands of bridal gown and shoe images to find them. And if your community of interest is big enough, it would make sense to have a site for arranging visual information specifically related to your group.

I think this is where things are going in this space. It’s just a hunch, but I’m guessing that a year from now people will be wondering what happened to the Category 5 Internet storm that was Pinterest hype. When this thing washes up on shore, it’ll retain a significant audience, but I don’t think people will be talking about it in the same way that they talk about Facebook or Twitter.

If Pinterest winds up being a game-changer, it’s going to be because its sudden popularity virtually guarantees it’s going to wind up at the center of the next wave of battles over online copyright disputes. And if the folks at Pinterest can fight intelligently and stay the course, they may just win some battles on the right side of fair use.