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Pinterest Definition - What is Pinterest.com?

Overview of How the Site Works and the Visual Sharing Boomlet It's Created

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Pinterest home page image
© Pinterest home page

Pinterest.com has skyrocketed in popularity, but many people still struggle to understand exactly what Pinterest is and why millions of folks are using it.

Here's a simple definition: Pinterest.com is a photo-sharing website with social networking features. Its main innovation is a grid-style layout that arranges images into what it calls "virtual pinboards."

The pinboards work like online photo albums and can be browsed, shared, re-shared, liked and, of course, commented on.

What is the Name About?

It's called "Pinterest" because the design metaphor it uses is of a pinboard, where people "pin" or post images they find interesting onto a big, public, browsable bulletin board. Hence the name, which often gets misspelled as pintrest, p interest or even pintrst.

People can get overwhelmed when they first visit Pinterest.com because of the sheer volume of all the "pinned" images on display, not to mention the variety of new ways of organizing them. Basically, though, it's simple - the site lets you upload or save images you find online into online photo albums which they call "boards."

You can download a Pinterest Pin It button and install it in your Web browser, allowing you to save or "pin" images you see online by clicking the Pin It button in your browser's toolbar. The button also creates a link to the original image source, so you don't have to copy and paste the Web address. Others who browse your saved images can click on them and go see the original.

Finally, since this also a social network, you can "follow" other users and "like" their image boards or their individual images saved (which the site calls "pins.") This Pinterest board explainer walks through how image boards and pinning work.

Where Pinterest.com fits into the Social Web

Pinterest is a tool for visual sharing, visual bookmarking, social bookmarking, photo sharing and "curating" visual content found on the Web. So you'll find it often gets classified into one or more of those categories of sites and tools.

Visual bookmarking is really a subcategory of social bookmarking. As this guide to visual bookmarks explains, the category of visual bookmarking is experiencing an explosion of new sites, tools and services, as people seem keen to move beyond the text-heavy Web to enjoy the visual side of all the information it contains.

Pinterest is similar to earlier image-sharing services upon which it built conceptually. Its many innovations, though, have triggered a fresh wave of social visual bookmarking clones, each with their own way of helping folks organize and share visual material.

Reviewers have called the site different things as they struggle to understand what exactly it is. A former designer for the site called it a " self-expression engine" because people use it to express their interests and creativity. David Pogue at the New York Times compared it to "virtual scrapbooking." Others call it a "social curation tool."

History of Pinterest: 2010 Launch, 2011 Traffic Spurt

Pinterest.com went live in private beta early in 2010 and grew slowly that year, then rocketed into the mainstream in 2011. It was created by a startup company in Palo Alto, California called Cold Brew Labs, Inc. The co-founders were Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp.

Silbermann wrote in an email to users in 2011 that his wife (his girlfriend at the time) Divya coined the name Pinterest after she watched one of the Dos Equis "The Most Interesting Man in the World" TV commercials at Thanksgiving 2009, when Silbermann and his pals were trying to name the website they would launch four months later.

By December 2011, analytics firm Hitwise had ranked it in the top 10 social networking sites. ComScore Inc. reported that Pinterest had 11.7 million unique visitors in January 2012, which ranked the network as the 148th most trafficked site on the entire Internet.

Its visitor growth jumped 56 percent over the previous month, making it the fourth fastest growing site tracked by comScore in January 2011.

Part of the increase was because Pinterest was getting a ton of media attention in the wake of data suggesting Pinterest had drawn 10 million users faster than any other website ever did.

By August 2012, Pinterest had racked up 20 million monthly users, including a ton of corporations and brands, to become one of the Internet's top social networks.

TechCrunch, meantime, reported that investment interest in Pinterest was so strong by October 2011 that the young company received another $27 million round of investment capital, in addition to the $10 million round it drew earlier that year. The tiny Silicon Valley startup only had eight employees at the time, and by early 2012 it had only reached 16.

Pinterest required an invite to join for several years but opened its registration to all in August 2012. Even when it was in invite-only mode, the company freely gave out invites to anyone who signed up and requested one. Now to register, you simply go to the home page and either provide your Facebook or Twitter account information or an email address to create a Pinterest account. The old Pinterest invite policy required a short waiting period or an invite from a friend who was already using it.

Who Uses Pinterest and Why?

Women were the early drivers of growth for the site and continue to be the key demographic taking its popularity into the mainstream, but really, people of all genders and ages use Pinterest now.

As for why, that's hard to pin down. People use its image-pinning tools to save, share and organize pictures in a gazillion different categories for almost every conceivable purpose.

Folks collect images for home decorating projects, for cooking scrumptious looking meals and seeing what recipes look like when they reach the table, for illustrating their hobbies, and of course for identifying and sharing places they've been or want to go. Travel, cooking, hobbies and home decor are all big areas on Pinterest, as are nature photography and shopping for just about everything.

Businesses also use Pinterest to showcase their products. So many of them use it, in fact, that the site decided to offer separate Pinterest for business accounts in November 2012.

Even the U.S. military has created virtual pinboards (seemingly for recruitment purposes) to showcase photos of Army soldiers around the world, displaying National Guard operations and touting "Books Worth Reading" by Navy personnel.

Are There Pinterest Apps for the iPad and iPhone?

Yes, Pinterest offers official mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, too.

This guide to Pinterest apps for mobile phones explains what's available for smart phones.

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