I’ve been struggling to put into words why I’m not drawn to Pinterest.
JWT North America CEO David Eastman, who opened up Social Media Week in New York finally put a voice to what I have been feeling. ”Pinterest – it’s a beautifully laid out visualization of all the stuff we like, but am I the only person who feels there’s something human missing here?” Eastman said. “It all feels a bit empty. “ The problem with Piniterest or Facebook is that you can ‘like’ or ‘pin’ everything with the same casual action.”
Surface Level Conversations
This has been sitting in the back of my head for some time and Eastman has helped clarify it for me. It came up in the comment stream on Facebook Is Not The Internet, Nor Should It Be. The Facebook personal stream encourages surface level conversations. Likes, a quick, “This is awesome” comment, etc. Many have talked about this as a flaw in their network. You can see a big difference in Facebook groups, which are their own communities, their own subgroups. The conversations in those sub-groups are often much deeper. As Drew Meyers said, “Eventually, thought leaders will find a next platform where they can have better discussions, less noise and better UI, and the masses will follow over time.”
And this all made me think of a presentation I did at Inman New York in 2009. Oddly, it was titled, “Beyond Blogging.” Included in that presentation was a look at the work of two thinkers in the social software space, Matt Web’s discussion On Social Software from 2004, and Gene Smith’s building upon his thoughts with Social Software Building Blocks in 2007.
- Identity – a way of uniquely identifying people in the system
- Presence – a way of knowing who is online, available or otherwise nearby
- Relationships – a way of describing how two users in the system are related (e.g. in Flickr, people can be contacts, friends of family)
- Conversations – a way of talking to other people through the system
- Groups – a way of forming communities of interest
- Reputation – a way of knowing the status of other people in the system (who’s a good citizen? who can be trusted?)
- Sharing – a way of sharing things that are meaningful to participants (like photos or videos)
Encouraging Quality Conversations
Smith’s honeycombs allowed him to visualize the primary focus of each system, as shown by the darker hexagon, and the supporting elements of the system, as shown by the lighter hexagons. What was not a large part of the conversation at the time was the importance of the strength of each building block, regardless of focus. What is being played out as we come to know and use social software as a part of our daily lives is that the quality of conversation is critical if conversation is the focus of the social software, and that even when it is not the focus, quality conversation plays a key role in the how we feel about a system.
I included illustrations of Blogging, Facebook and Pinterest in the gallery at the end of this post. Pinterest’s focus is sharing. Pinterest enables conversation, but like Facebook, it encourages very surface level conversations. I can pin something with little or no commentary. I can repin and like with simple clicks of my mouse. And while that sends a message to the person who originally pinned the item, it’s a very weak signal. It’s a kind of conversation, but it’s not quality conversation.
And that leaves me scratching my head about Pinterest. Because I have the same feeling that Eastman has. Sure, it’s hot. It’s driving traffic to websites in droves. But I wonder about it’s staying power. Like Flickr, it’s focus, it’s reason for being, is sharing, and conversation is a weak supporting element. Is that enough? Are quality conversations important for the long-term success of a platform like Pinterest? Does it feel empty to you too?