Archive for January, 2012

Fighting blindspots and understanding Pinterest

Posted on January 26, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, venture capital |

Many times when something new breaks out on the internet, I understand it intuitively.  I am a user of most of what is being used.  Maybe not a dedicated user, but I get to the point in a service where I understand the behavior and mechanics that are driving adoption and/or change.  I cannot stand having blind spots.  I remember when David Sze at Greylock invested in Facebook at a $500M valuation.  Articles were abound asking “Why is Google afraid of Facebook?”  The idea that social syndication was a threat to search and intent based discovery was so so new.  I was the youngest person at General Catalyst at the time and probably the most active on Facebook  and I remember sitting in a partner meeting with a group of incredible intelligent and accomplished people, and having to get up on the whiteboard and explain that Facebook was not just about images and voyeurism, but rather a distribution and discovery channel for web content.  I look back on that moment as one of the points where I realized that generational change creates blind spots specifically in the most disruptive phenomena that contributes to tectonic change.  For every Fred Wilson, who seems immune to such generational disadvantage, there are 50 VC’s who do not understand the new new thing on the web as a user or early adopter.  I once talked to a portfolio founder of Fred’s who was building a pretty avant guard product at the time, and he told me “that Fred is working really hard to understand my product as a user.”  I thought to myself…”ok, even the best needs to put effort into the areas where pure intuition allows for a blind spot.”  I took that idea, put it in my back pocket, and committed to fighting the blind spots.

About 6 months ago it became clear to me that something different was happening at Pinterest.  The number of mentions, the way people referenced it, there was something going on, but as a user, for some reason, I was blind to it.  I created a “to do” on my Asana task list “understand pinterest.”  It sat in my queue for months, as we’ve been busy at Hyperpublic and Lerer Ventures…but on Monday, while home sick…I decided to dig in and try to fight my blind spot.  I am still working on “getting it,” but here’s what I’ve got so far:

1)   I don’t know if I’m using it like most people yet, but I think I see how they are using it.  It is a interesting combination of utility and publishing platform.  There are elements of twitter/wordpress/tumblr insofar as the aggregate of my pinboards represent me and give me a voice, but it does not feel like nearly as active or loud a voice as the aforementioned channels.  I see two possible reasons why I feel this:

  1. Pinterest is more powerful for image/visual based thinkers who express and understand in those mediums.  If this is the only reason, I worry about a ceiling for addressable market relative to twitter/fbook which would cap the service at a number of users south of 100M for example.
  2. While I do have a voice in the service, an equal or perhaps greater driver of content creation (pinning/annotation) is in personal organization and utility.  People are migrating part of the ux currently served by their “to do” lists to this more image/nav friendly environment.  Examples of this behavior would be “wedding ideas,” “places I want to go,” or “home decorating ideas.”  In this case, although public, the primary purpose of “creating content” is personal utility and it just happens that I don’t mind publishing this organizational effort.  The mechanics for interaction and feedback on my work seem light relative to comments section of wordpress or the deeply ingrained @reply system within twitter (although i believe there is a voice in my boards nonetheless).

2)   If b is correct, the effect is twofold: i) as a user I do not expect all the content I create/curate to be actively consumed (as opposed to twitter or wordpress where I believe my followers are hanging on my every tweet (jkjk), ii) there is a form of passive syndication that may be at the core of explosive activity and enhanced syndication of content relative to the prior channels.

PASSIVE SYNDICATION EXPLANATION: When I pin either 1) with the primary motivation of organization or 2) repin with the primary motivation of organization, I believe I am syndicating semi-consciously. That image or piece of content gets published to my follower bases in a similar fashion to a Retweet on twitter, but I am not shy about what I pin and what it says about me in the same way as I would be on twitter.  This act of repinning in my mind is closer to the “star tweet” function in twitter.  Where I am taking an action to save or personally consume later, but for twitter to achieve similar syndication mechanics, they would have to create a rule which says “RT everytime I star a Tweet” (which btw might be a good IFTTT if you want to mess with pinterest dynamics in the twitter channel)

With that passive syndication phenomena, they are effectively lowering the social commitment of a user to engage in “share.”  As a result, it may not be that they are opening up a new concentric circle of users as publishing platforms have before them (i.e. what mircroblogging did to the addressable user base of traditional blogging), but rather that they have expanded the addressable sharer base of content on what will be a smaller base of total users.  Or said another way, the ratio of sharers/users in Pinterest is probably way higher than in Facebook/Twitter. In this progression I would think of the tools that have expanded addressable sharer base in the past as: Email/distributed
share this buds” -> microblog platforms/Facebook news feed -> Facbook distributed like / twitter “tweet this” button -> Pinterest “PASSIVE SYNDICATION” / repin

NOTE/DISCLAIMER: Sadly TUMBLR remains a blindspot for me, probably for the same reasons that Pinterest was…so some of these mechanics, (although I don’t think the “repin utility function”) may exist in that channel and are therefore not new.

Is this right?  What am I missing?  What is Pinterest????

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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