It's been hard to be online lately without hearing about Pinterest. The social image sharing site launched in early 2010 but has seen rapid growth in the last several months. In December 2011, it broke into the top 10 list of social websites (measured by page hits) with 11 million visits in one week. For those who haven't had the time/inclination/opportunity to check out Pinterest, here's how it works:
Pinterest users create pinboards, which are collections of images gathered from around the web. The act of adding an image to a pinboard is called pinning. The beauty of pinning is two-fold:
- You can pin any image you run across online, be it a photo, a chart, a video, or a discussion. Pinning is easy; you can pin an image from another user's pinboard, you can install a pin button to the toolbar of your web browser, or you click an icon on a webpage that has chosen to provide a pin button. However you do it, all the images from that webpage are pulled up and you can pick which ones go on your pinboard.
- Pinboards can be organized in anyway you wish. Looking for ideas on bathroom decor? You can create a pinboard for pictures of bathrooms that you like for future reference? Or ideas for gifts. Or images of books you want to read someday. As long as its an image of some sort, you can pin it to a pinboard. And, of course, you can have as many pinboards as you wish to curate.
Your pinboards are innately public; there is no provision for making pinboards private. In fact, the public nature of the boards is sort of the point. By pinning images from other users' boards to your own, you create social connections. After all, if you were interested in an image on someone's board enough to pin it to one of your boards, there's a good chance that you might find other things of interest on that person's board. And vice versa.
I've heard Pinterest described as "Delicious for pictures" and I think the analogy is apt; it's like bookmarks of images rather than pages. In the United States, interest in Pinterest has been especially strong in women, many of whom are interested in crafts or DIY projects. Interestingly, Pinterest users in the United Kingdom have been more likely to be men. Pinterest describes itself as still in beta and you have to get an invitation from a current user in order get an account. Or, you can click a link to request an invitation directly from the site. Pinterest seems determined to keep their growth controlled. It's unclear whether this is an effort to manage the site's technical infrastructure, to maintain a tighter, more cohesive user community, or something else entirely.
With growing popularity has come some controversy surrounding Pinterest:
Copyright concerns--The ease with which users can pin images from websites has caused some to worry that copyright is being violated. The ball on such concerns really started rolling in February 2012 when Kirsten Kowalski, a photographer, lawyer, and avid Pinterest user posted Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards to her blog. After seeing concern amongst her fellow photographers about people posting their work to Facebook, she began to wonder if Pinterest posed a similar problem. She did some research and concluded that, indeed, it did. Kirsten's blog post sparked a vigorous online conversation, which still continues. Those on the other side of the discussion cite the ability for copyright holders' to request their content be removed, which would seem entitle Pinterest (but not its users) to protection under the "safe harbor" provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Still others point out that this issue is not new; we've seen it with YouTube and other sharing sites already. Pinterest responded to the controversy by releasing a "nopin" HTML tag for use in image metadata on websites. Pinterest will not pin images tagged "nopin", thus giving copyright holders the ability to opt out. Flickr has implemented the tag to allow their users to make the same choice regarding their photos.
Affiliate codes--Affiliate codes are small codes that many websites add to their content in an effort to make money. For example, I might post a list of books that I like on my website, with links to the titles in Amazon. By registering in Amazon's affiliate program, I get a small code that I can tack on to the end of the URL in my link. If anyone clicks that link and subsequently buys the title from Amazon, I get a little cash. Not much, maybe a buck or two. But that can add up for large website. Note that it is customary to post a notification on your website that you are using affiliate codes in your links.
A few months ago, it was discovered that Pinterest was quietly (and without effective disclosure) adding it's own affiliate codes to the links for images its users were pinning. This raised eyebrows across the internet. Initial rumors that Pinterest was deleting affiliate codes added by its users proved false; Pinterest is only adding codes to links that have no affiliate code already. And it should be noted that Pinterest is not the first website to use this technique. But everyone seems to agree that Pinterest should have done more to let its users know how it was monetizing their links.
OK, so now you know the broad outlines of what Pinterest is. Enough to explain it quickly to a patron who is curious about this website she heard about. Let's go a step further. How can you use it in your library?
Showcase your collections--Most library use of Pinterest so far has been showcase collections. Pinboards of cover art is a great way to highlight new titles or interesting collections. Art and photographs related to library programs can also be pinned for promotions.
Cultivate your Pinners--Reach out to Pinterest users among your patrons by encouraging them to re-pin your images. Recruit a photography club to create a board of photos of your library in all its glory. In short, join the Pinterest community as an active participant rather than just dumping a bunch of images in the hopes that someone sees them. It is a social website, after all.
Have a contest--This overlaps with the above point about cultivating your Pinners but the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University recently challenged its students to define the future of librarianship using only pinboards. Submissions were due by March 19 and I can't wait to see the winning entries.