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Do you Pinterest?

Fiona Mackrell

Pinterest is the fast growing phenomena on the net, a social media site that allows users to collate and share images on the web - and it has huge implications for artists.
Do you Pinterest?
A little over two years ago a website started up to help users collate and share images on the web. Within a year its users were growing from the thousands to the millions and its popularity was spreading from the US to Europe. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice of the Silicon Valley startup. Now, according to comScore, in February 2012 Pinterest hit 17.8 million monthly users in the US, up over 6 million users from the January figure of 11.7 million, making its rise amongst the fastest of any site to ever hit the web. Yet a lot of people still only have a vague idea what it’s about. Melbourne based jewellery designer, Tessa Blazey’s reaction to discovering images of her work were already spreading and being shared on Pinterest, was typical of many artists, surprised. ‘I didn't know about all of that going on secretly in the background. It's very flattering I guess and I'm delighted people seem genuinely interested in the work. I've notice some people using Pinterest on Facebook but I'm not all that familiar with it yet.’ What is it? Pinterest is frequently described as web-based scrapbooking, a virtual equivalent to cutting your favourite pictures out of magazines and sticking them up on your wall. But its power is far more subtle than that. Pinterest allows you to upload or ‘pin’ images and videos you find on the web and add them to ‘boards’ that you can create on any topic or theme you like. There’s a simple tool you can install on your browser’s toolbar to ‘pin’ images and link them back to their original source, and many websites are also embedding ‘pin’ options. It allows you to share images in your collections with others, follow topics or users that interest you as well as comment and ‘like’ other images you discover. The site was founded by two tech enthusiasts who also loved collecting, Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, who met when they were in college. Sharp who studied architecture is the lead designer and that design training shows in the simple interface and its attractive clean aesthetic even as the collected images are scattered and randomized. And it’s here that Pinterest departs from other social media formats. Where Facebook is for updating friends, Twitter creates entertaining chatter and Flickr provides ways to upload and share photo albums, Pinterest is about ideas. As people scan and pin the way their images are juxtaposed triggers other connections and curiosities. The process is inherently creative and highly personal, open to individual interpretation. It encourages people to react emotionally, instantaneously, almost subliminally. Things can spread very fast. It’s fun, addictive and time-absorbing. It’s also aspirational, full of ‘one day I will’ dreams gleaned from beautiful pictures of beautiful things. Wedding ideas, fashion and jewellery, craft projects, food styling, party decorations, holiday destinations and home improvements have all become popular topics, as are cute pets. Many people are also already surprised at how revealing their Pinterest boards can be about their inner worlds, like unwittingly creating their own Rorschach test responses. Some have described Pinterest as perpetual window shopping and marketing strategists around the world are scratching their heads looking for ways to leverage its growing popularity into marketing opportunities. Particularly as the combination of characteristics emerging on Pinterest seem to have skewed it heavily female. In an article in Forbes magazine, Ben Silbermann explains that women in Des Moines, where he’s from and the site started were the first people to really ‘understand ’ the site. In fact the typical Pinterest user is still female, between 25-54 years old, middle-class, college educated, family orientated and lives in the Midwest. As the site’s popularity grows the demographics may well change although competitor sites focused on men have already sprung up, such as Based out of Palo Alto in California the company has only a small team of around 21 employees, and while so far there is no advertising and therefore no revenue being generated by Pinterest, investors are likely to be clamouring to get in. It recently launched a iPhone version and while the look has ‘raised the bar’ and been quickly copied the company continues to innovate and is soon to bring out an iPad app aimed at making user’s profiles even ‘more beautiful.” How it works To join Pinterest you need to have a Twitter or Facebook account or be ‘invited’ by another user. Even then requests to become a member can take a day or so to come through making it feel more like an exclusive club and reinforcing the sense you’re joining a ‘community’. Certainly the lack of instantaneous gratification doesn’t seem to be deterring many people joining up. Pinterest sets out rules to ensure users have a positive experience. It’s etiquette asks users to ‘be nice’, ‘be creative’ and ‘credit fellow pinners’ ensuring images link back to the original pin or source. And so far Pinterest remains wholesome if a bit hokey. Interestingly, it also goes against the spirit of Pinterest to overtly promote or advertise yourself. The Etiquette states, “Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion” Users are actually provided by Pinterest with a licence to use the site and its apps, and must accept terms and conditions that include agreeing to not violate, infringe or misappropriate any third party’s patent, copyright, trademark or moral or intellectual property rights. Nor will the site stand for obscene, pornographic, violent or discriminatory images, which users can report and Pinterest will take down. Unsolicited advertising, spam and junk mail are also big no-nos. And so far it also prohibits use of the site for commercial purposes. (See full Terms and Conditions) Problems popping up Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the site’s lengthy terms and conditions the legal ground is shaky around sharing images on the web. The issue of copyright has been highlighted recently in a series of media reports in the US triggered by a widely read blog post, ‘Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest inspiration boards' by photographer and lawyer Kirsten Kowalski. Kowalski suggested users could unwittingly violate copyright by pinning the work of others on their boards and potentially be personally sued for copyright infringement. Founder Ben Silbermann reportedly quickly got directly in touch with Kowalski to discuss her concerns though the company asserts the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides safe harbours for exactly this type of platform. Yet some query if this will hold true if legally contested. The situation is decidedly murky. (See for a detailed look at the Fair Use argument associated with this issue). Copyright issues are obviously a particular concern for photographers and other artists who try to make a living from the images they create. And in response to Pinterest’s rapid growth Flickr has added an opt-out code for users to disable Pinterest from sharing their images without permission. Other emerging problems also seem sadly predictable as scammers and spammers try to infiltrate the site offering fake freebies and luring users into giving out personal information. The site also gets its share of impersonators, some simply satirical (MrsObama) while others have been attempting to leverage brand names and trademarks. Is it for me? Despite its popularity, it's not a site for ‘everyone’. Some people bore or become frustrated by Pinterest expecting a guidebook rather than a scrapbook, misinterpreting the curated images for a search engine like Google. While images link back to original sources, a picture of a cute crocheted brooch won’t necessarily provide a website with detailed instructions on how to make it yourself. Sometimes the original context of an image is totally unrelated to the creative prompts they inspire in users. Others see it as no more inspiring than reading a lush magazine. What’s it mean for artists? Pinterest is already too big to ignore. Like it or not if images of your work are on the web there’s a chance one of the growing millions of Pinterest users will want to ‘pin’ an image of it. There’s also something to be said for getting in early, making sure you have a presence and a username that identifies with your commercial practice. Such a move isn’t about gratuitous self-promotion rather it’s about brand integrity across platforms. What you choose to share and pin on Pinterest provides an insight into your personality, what inspires you and the sort of virtual citizen you are. It provides a unique way of connecting with potential audiences. Pinterest’s spectacular growth shows a lot of people have seen and understood, as artists, marketers and advertisers have known for a long time that communicating in pictures is powerful. But now it can be done at the click of a button with the clout of online social media. That’s a going to change how a lot of people think about how they operate online. UPDATE On 24 March, Pinterest notified user that they are updating their Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy and Privacy Policy. Amongst the changes will be the removal of the controversial clause that granted Pinterest the right to sell your content. Their statement said, ‘Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.’ They’ve also released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements. The changes come into affect from 6 April, 2012. “Like everything at Pinterest, these updates are a work in progress that we will continue to improve upon. We're working hard to make Pinterest the best place for you to find inspiration from people who share your interest. We've gotten a lot of help from our community as we've crafted these Terms,” the Pinterest statement said. You can check out the updated Terms of Service at

About the author

Fiona Mackrell is a Melbourne based freelancer. You can follow her at @McFifi or check out