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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11 Responses to “Fighting blindspots and understanding Pinterest”

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People on FB list favorite books/movies/quotes/etc….but nobody really cares because the value of this on FB is rarely leveraged between personal relationships. Re Pinterest; however, a complete stranger on the subway (as an example) likes a picture of a motorcycle that he sees…this defines an aspect of him. I don’t care who he is, but I like that motorcycle too…and so I repin that to more specifically define who I am (what I’m about beyond personal relationships). Pinterest is what FB isn’t because it’s pure play at establishing interest-based connections regardless of whether I actually care about who the specific people are. The FB killer of the future will be a dashboard with pureplay widgets specifically optimized for each aspect of one’s makeup.

thanks for the expanation

Something I have not found from pinterest but I definitely enjoy at is a third end-user usecase that you are missing: not pinning, just consumption. I don’t care about my audience, i just want to be inspired and safe what’s interesting to me

To that end for me is a visual RSS feed reader (so to speak) of products that I like. It’s an inspiration feed of stuff I may like. Now I would say I frequently visit the same number of times Google Reader as In the same way I need to stay up to date with news and opinions, I want to stay up to date with what’s trendy. I agree that in this case pining is like “favoriting” on twitter: not intended for your own distribution, but to “keep it for future use or reference”.

Doing that with photos is not only much more easy for a person (in the same way movies/tv are more easy to consume than books/press) but they are much more visual. In a sense, pinterest is what delicious could have been if they had displayed images instead of links.

Last year, sitting in the back of lecture halls, I realized that 80% of the 150 girls in my class had online shopping websites up in the browsers – checking out clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc… I asked a girl sitting next to me, “How do they have all have so much money to spend? They’re *always* shopping!” She replied, “They’re not shopping, they’re just browsing. They’ll probably buy one item every couple weeks, it’s just a way to pass the time.” This, I believe, is the Pinterest demographic. If girls browsing online stores was 1.0 – clicking “next page” on the web browser – browsing and repinning Pinterest is their equivalent of Web 2.0… A more engaged and active “window shopping” experience…

If you only look at the content creators, you miss that Pinterest is NOT primarily a personal organization utility. It can be used for pleasure, for a “lean back” experience focused on for casual discovery, inspiration, self expression, and emotional connection. It’s a lot more like a visual Digg and Tumblr than it is like Evernote and WordPress.

The Pinterest founders were early KartMe members. KartMe had the “ReKart” (like RePin) and “Karts” (like Boards). Pinterest did a few key changes that were very smart:
1) Make photos the lead, not links or products
2) Keep it inspirational, and not just about things you really will act on. Photos of inspirational messages or places you’ll never go often are pinned
3) Cultivate a founding community of interior designers and food bloggers

As it’s not a utility, I wonder if the community will cap at about the size of “people into design, cooking and photography”, which is easily in the 10s of millions.

i looked at it through that angle as well… in that concept the focus is definitely way heavier on the actual content being shared as opposed to the person sharing it…which decreases voice or pubishing power. 90% of the attention is focussed on the image and attribution of the publisher is minimized…BUT with services like this the consumptive side is much less interesting in terms of change and disruption. if you are going to put the rise of this service into the category of entertainment, leanback experience, browse…than i find it much less interesting…i believe the publishers/contributors to services drive their success and the lurkers are transient and move from one environment to the next…i place a much higher premium and enterprise value in disruption to the creation or supply side dynamics of a market

While it’s nice to see lots of publishers, there are exceptions. Wikipedia only has 1,000s of writers, but the lurkers make it a massive property. Twitter is becoming a place for celebrities and not common folks, but it still has massive traffic.

I think that Pinterest has a great set of core contributors, already enough to take share from Google and vertical content sites for searches and browsing on everything from fashion to ipad accessories to recipes to home design to wedding planning.

it’s not volume of publishers that’s important, it’s behavior of publishers. wikipedia’s publishing dynamics is what makes it special/disruptive

jc- i love pinterest for exactly what you mentioned. it is an organizational tool for me. i can collect all the things i love — recipes, home decor ideas, DIYs, travel ideas, etc in a visual board instead of clipping photos and putting them in files or bookmarking a page (which is what i used to do). i use svpply also — but that is more product based, things i actually want to buy. pinterest is more: things to make, do, see, experience. i like the follow aspect, but i have to be super aligned with the aesthetic of someone to follow them. and i don’t care about followers, i care about having a place to keep my visual “mood” boards.

Check it out, new mashable infographic on Pinterest:

Retailers are using Pinterest and others like it to paint a story about their company – It’s feels more personal/less of a hard sell by taking away the price points. Only if I really like something after seeing it within the bigger picture do I click through to get taken to the page with the payment info which makes it feel like more of empowered decision to buy.

Similarly, individual users can use Pinterest to showcase their aesthetic/interests/passions to potential employers/investors/partners etc. Gives a more digestible & quick overview of your personality than FB or Twitter and doesn’t feel as much like targeted self-promotion as a personal website.

First and foremost though, it’s a great reference point to go back to things that have inspired you easily rather than scanning through a long list of bookmarks.

JC – Thank you for FIGHTING!!! What I found particularly refreshing about this posting was your personal commitment to understanding the value in something that wasn’t readily apparent to you, rather than adopting the myopic viewpoint that can be so prevalent: “If it doesn’t make sense to me, no one will use it.”

We walk into rooms every day with the notion that Radio is not dead, but rather “evolving.” It seems that the Radio industry is such that people on the outside generally do not recognize its indispensable cultural value despite 94% of the population using it weekly and the billions of dollars of revenue it generates annually. This is why, up until now, the only “near” innovation in the space is coming from radio people who get it from the inside (dare I say, Clear Channel) and have a vested interest (as do we all) in its transformation into digital.

When approached by engineers or music people, the “radio” product gets contrived and potential gets capped by licensing. Hope we run into more people like you who seek to understand their blind spots. And even more, that you will create the to do, “understand Hitch Radio.” AA

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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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