I may be the only man in North America using it but I love Pinterest (my boards here) and it looks like they are finally growing up. A week after dropping its invite-only requirement to let anyone sign up for accounts and adding categories to the site, Pinterest has made another big change yesterday adding new apps for Android and the iPad plus an improvement to the existing iPhone app (you can download them here). I’ve spent my time with the new iPad version which may be the perfect form factor for Pinterest as the the media grazing behavior of the iPad fits perfectly with the content of the site. I have to say that it was worth the wait with some nice user interface touches and a solution that starts to solve their biggest problem.
The interface design of the new iPad app, like all great designs, takes all the available options and boils them down to make it really smart and simple to use. The initial experience in the app is very much like the site with it opening to show the pins of the people you are following. Just like on the site when you touch one of the images to blow it up and double tapping will take you to the site where the image was pinned from. The app devites from the site to work with the form factor of the iPad by having the user swipe right to left to open the main menu. This menu allows you to see what the people you follow have been pinning, lists all of Pinterest’s categories, search the site and a new feature of their own embedded web browser.
It’s this web browser where you see that Pinterest as a platform is really starting to grow up and recognize its biggest problem – its impossible to pin anything to the site outside of a web browser. Their solution for the iPhone and iPad has been to include that modified web browser in the app with the additions of a “Pin It’ button and unmarked film strip icon in the top bar. The “Pin It” button works just like the one you have in your regular web browser but its the unmarked film strip icon next to that is far more interesting. Touching it will pull up all recent pins on Pinterest from the site you are currently browsing. It seems simple enough but when you really break it down there is a of powerful and really smart things happening in that one button. The first thing is that it is showing other people who have similar taste to me and I found myself spending a lot more time than I was expecting using it as a tool to explore the boards where other people would put the content I was interested in. Don’t underestimate the power of something like that where it encourages you to spend more time exploring the site as those tend to be the type of things investors and advertisers like to see down the road. The second and bigger reason is that this feature get people to build and invest back in to the Pinterest community. When I pick one of those pins someone else made I am going to create one of those “Joe Smith repinned your pin” messages for them the next time they log-in. It’s a simple and often ignored little detail of the site but it is that social feedback and reinforcement that makes you feel like part of a community and like you have good taste other people like. It creates a cycle where that emotion makes you want to pin more things so you can get more of those messages and more of that reinforcement. The fact that Pinterest is able to see, understand and react to these insights bodes well for them as they will be able to continue to keep existing users engaged and cultivate new user unlike site like Klout who seems to be blind to their community building problems.
It’s obvious that Pinterest is taking its platform much more seriously but the site’s growth has leveled off in recent months after its meteoritic rise from 1.03 million unique monthly users in the United States in August 2011 to 17.8 million in February. These opening the site up to everyone and launching these apps are good steps to reach new audiences but I do think they have a few more big problems to solve in the near future. Just like Facebook, as Pinterest grows in popularity there will be increased pressure to show clear revenue streams which will mean they will need to find meaningful ways to open the site to paid content from advertisers and brands. The first challenge will be to see if they can do this without destroying the pristine look of the site which is currently devoid of any ads and while maintaining the power of the community without users leaving because they feel like it has been pirated by advertisers. The other challenge will be to see how they can evolve the platform to be able to showcase things that aren’t well designed or aspiration. If you have great product designs or happen to work for a hotel company who has buildings with some of the world’s greatest architecture in some of the world’s most beautiful locations then you are all set. But what about brands with some of the world’s largest budgets but no sexy products do like pharmaceuticals, alcohol or banking? For the site to have continued success and growth they are going to need to be able to solve these problems so we can get more great apps like these.