Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Perusing Pinterest, and what it can do for you

This article can also be found at The Yorker, here.

I don't use Tumblr. I'm very old-school when it comes to blogging, and Tumblr's image-heavy focus doesn't gel well with me and my walls of prose. Hell, it took me long enough to get into Twitter; it felt like blogging for the lazy... until I learned that journalists use it all the time, and I was being a Luddite.

On the other hand, I use RSS Feeds daily. For the uninitiated, RSS is a system that collates and lists updates of a website, so you can browse a list of headlines and summaries. It's a really useful system if you follow a lot of sites and blogs at once (that can't just be me, right?); and Google Reader is one of the best RSS Aggregators out there. Interestingly enough, it has a social networking feature - you can follow other people who use Google Reader, and see the items and RSS feeds they recommend. Get enough friends with similar interests together, and everyone ends up well-informed.

Why do I bring these two services up? Because one of the newest social networking sites, Pinterest, functions essentially as a fusion of the two. To describe it simply; if there is a webpage you find interesting, Pinterest will let you select a key image from it, and attach it to a 'Board', categorised by interest (Design, Food and Drink, Women's Apparel, etc.). It's has the visual aesthetics of Tumblr, but when used properly there's also a practical archive of information-sharing, à la Google Reader.

For example, say you have a quirky interest in obscure facts about animals. All it takes is a visit to the Pets or the Science & Nature categories, Repin a few images, follow a member or two who consistently provide interesting content, and upload your own Internet discoveries. Each category's page updates with new Pins and Repins; and it's satisfying to be told that original content you've linked has been Liked and Repinned by others.

In terms of usability there are a few problems (small but irritating things like the search function not having a category filter), but Pinterest does have a rather glaring issue in regards to its Terms of Service. To take a couple of quotes from the Legal & Copyright section of the site:

"By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell..."
"You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, [and] are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site..."

Essentially these rules let Pinterest do things like sell information about your interests and website-visiting habits to advertisement services and the like. This is nothing new, Facebook and similar social networking sites have done this for years. What this phrasing also allows is for users to be the ones held responsible, if Pinterest should ever get into a lawsuit over it hosting or selling any content we upload that isn't our own (which is likely to be all of it!).

The owner of Pinterest has acknowledged concerns about this wording, and it may well change in future. As it stands now, it's very much unlikely to have lawyers breathing down your neck if you Pin a jacket from H&M, but it's always a good idea to know what your rights are.
If you're interested in using Pinterest, here are a few handy hints to get the most out of the experience:

Original Content is King!
Repinning the findings of other members to flesh out your Boards is an easy way to get started, but no one likes a leech. By pinning items you find yourself, the site grows. You'll also help fill in some of the blanks that the existing community doesn't always provide. The Food and Drink section has next to no cocktail pins, and that is just unacceptable.

Always check the Sources!
At the top right of every pinned image, there's a link to where the image was taken from. This is so a picture of delicious brownies actually links to the recipe site it came from. If the link is to say, a Google image search, or a defunct/broken link, that's no good. If you just want to upload pretty pictures, Tumblr still exists.

Be Mindful of Your Image
Being a website still in beta, and one that relies heavily on user interaction, there aren't a lot of privacy options. The things you Pin and Repin are open for everyone to see. This shouldn't normally be an issue, and you would think that being careful about your online persona goes without saying, but that notion falls apart with a little scrutiny.

And for what it's worth, you can see my Boards here.

Update 25/03/12 (Nathan Blades): Pinterest has just changed its terms of service - it no longer states that it can sell items posted, along with additional measures to make it easier to report problematic content, such as items promoting self-harm. The changes will come into effect on the 6th April. You can read the new terms and conditions here.

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