Pinterest, please don’t become another must-have…

Who would imagine a world where a HBS course mandates each student to write a blog post as an assignment 20 years ago? Welcome to such a strange world where a person like me without any writing talent writes a blog post under the name of Harvard

Business School…

The emergence of the Internet obviously lowered the hurdle of self-expression to the general public for ordinary people and dramatically increased the impact of it. The world was also surprised to see how much of us inherently own (and had hidden) a strong desire to express ourselves beyond day-to-day fashion or bar conversations with friends. Blogging is probably the first generation of online self-expression, mostly through writing. And innovations in technology, entrepreneurship and a huge amount of investors behind them have enabled completely different ways of online self-expression, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and so on. The trend here seems pretty simple; online self-expression is becoming more and more intuitive and centered around your taste itself, rather than how you skillfully write about it. Following this trend, one of the ultimate forms of the intuitive online self-expression today is probably Pinterest.

According to Wikipedia, Pinterest is “a pinboard-style social photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies, and more. Users can browse other pinboards for inspiration, ‘re-pin’ images to their own collections or ‘like’ photos” and has gathered about 12 million unique users (as of the beginning of 2012) since its launch in March 2010, making itself the fastest website to break through 10 million unique users. Having read some articles and heard from my tech-savvy friends, I came to believe Pinterest has successfully hit 2 unique insights of people’s desire for online self-expression:

1. “I want to express myself through a collection of visuals I love.”

Self-expression through visuals is definitely one of the key aspects to understand Pinterest because writing nice sentences that you want to represent yourself is definitely not a piece of cake for all of us. But what’s equally important about Pinterest is that you can use an organized collection of visuals to express yourself, rather than random pieces of your private life e.g. your Facebook timeline that doesn’t necessarily represent your taste.

2. “I want to reconfirm the fact that my taste of visuals is so cool…!”

People love to recognize that their own taste is actually pretty nice, but it’s not always too easy to do so because things around you, that are supposed to represent you, easily get messy e.g. your room, your desk, your iPhone’s photo albums and etc. But filling Pinterest’s pin board with nice visuals and organizing them are easy for some of the people, which makes Pinterest a perfect tool for them not only to express themselves but also to find (and reconfirm) that their taste is amazing.

As mentioned above, Pinterest’s value proposition has certainly been addressing unmet needs for some of us. But not for all of us. As Pinterest becomes bigger, I started to realize there are more and more people like myself who understands the beauty of it but simply can’t use it well. Their (and my own) frustration is that they simply forgot how to express themselves intuitively through visuals after years and years of training that taught them to express themselves through “conclusion first supported by 3 reasons” kind of communication style (we call them “left-brained” people in Japan). If a Pinterest account becomes another must-have, just like twitter, Facebook or Linkedin, and becomes like a business card, that would totally be a nightmare because the collection of visuals I pick will never represent who I am in the way I want.

Then, the question is with what can I express myself the best? The simplest answer to me is my bookshelf, or other words, information I’ve consumed. You could even tell who I am very well if you look at the online articles I’ve read for the past 1 year. So, what if there is a website where you could pin any information you consumed online in a nicely organized way and use it as a self-expression tool, pretty much like Pinterest for “left-brained” people. I’d love to create an account and share it with my friends just like others enjoy Pinterest. Or, I could manage my online information consumption (e.g. what are the categories I spent most time on last week? Finance? Tech Business? Should I spend more time on Politics? How about my friends?) just like people manage monthly running mileage with Nike +.

I think it is a little different from the way you express yourself through random pieces of your life on Twitter or Facebook or clipping information for yourself on Evernote (because the objective is to share and manage the amount/ category/ variety of information you consume, not to keep all the details of important information you found and don’t want to forget). What do you think of this idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Matt Boys

    That's an interesting perspective I hadn't thought of before. I'm not sure that Pinterest will become a "must-have" for professionals as LinkedIn (and to some extent, Twitter) has become, but it's interesting to consider the differences in what feels intuitive to different types of people, most notably left-brain vs. right-brain thinkers.

    One tool I use for "saving" articles for later is Pocket, which might go some way to mitigating the visual nature of Pinterest for you, but I'm not sure it has the same public-facing aspect of Pinterest. Another tool that might be of interest is Tumblr. Tumblr is somewhere between Pinterest and a "regular" blog, in that it's usually very visual, but has neat ways to communicate and present text, links and video as well. This could represent a middle ground, where the left-brain and right-brain folks are able to co-exist.

  2. Syed-Abrar Ahmed

    It won't be long before the social networking platforms will become as diverse as cable TV packages–each channel representing a unique marketing niche. In this case, however, the content–a user-generated one, I must add–will now not only shape our self-expression, but a group's one, particularly designed by the platform to serve a specific product, service, or marketer.

    The good news: We're no longer alone in our choices, personalities, or hobbies–or even our likes and dislikes. We'll always find someone to share our tastes. Our expression is mirrored worldwide, and consequently rewarded for its popularity and growth, or sometimes even for its uniqueness.

    The bad news: We are in reality alone.

    Consider Pinterest. 23 million strong in just two years–its popularity driven by not what tools and ways it allows ways to express ourself, but the fact that how many people approve of it, whether visual or otherwise. Consequently, as the popularity grows, we're forced to change our expression based on the majority trends, particularly if we intend to be on the marketing or advertising side of the coin, even if it means our own selves.

    I am afraid, as much as we hate it, Pinterest will become a must-have. Why? Because the trend of our information consumption online (for both sides of the brain) is what social networking site are competing for, and odds will ever be in the favor of the platform with the most users. In the post 21st century where trends and updates are set by the minute, much will be lost. If you don't use Pinterest, even as a profession, you will miss out on valuable information that can actually help your daily life; just as your email; or Facebook timeline; or even getting hired because of your LinkedIn profile.

    A great thought provoking post – thanks!

  3. Elena Avramov

    I really like the idea of a Pinterest of articles I have read online. It reminds me a bit of Spotify's right column where I can see what my friends are listening to, a service I love!

    My sense is that Pinterest is so popular because it is yet another tool that fuels our consumption-focused, social-status obsessed society. How odd is it that people spend time showcasing physical possessions that they like or own for all the world to see? I understand if a stylist of architect or interior designer does this, to provide potential customers a sense of his or her personal style. But I just can't imagine anyone wants to see which Jcrew sweater I purchased this season. Moreover, what is the benefit of sharing this information, either to me or to other users? I agree that it satisfies a user's desire to express herself and get positive social feedback, but what does the receiver get? Is this just another emperor's new clothes situation, where we are all continuing to like just so that we can receive reciprocal likes? I just wonder how that is a long lasting value proposition, and at what point the Pinterest frenzy will wear off.

    I personally cannot wait for the day we are elevated to "left brain" social networking sites, or just sites where intelligent people can take part in the critical conversations of our day!