The Case for Pinterest

Slate recently ran an article about Pinterest by Farhad Manjoo that, although not entirely negative, wasn't exactly complimentary either.  In fact, it got my hackles up.  Manjoo was right on target with some observations, like how difficult Pinterest is to explain to someone who's never heard of it and what an earnest little corner of the interwebs it is.  But as a pretty regular Pinterest user (read: very close to having to start my own 12-step program, Pinners Anonymous), I resented his condescending tone.  And like any good addict, I'm compelled to defend my drug. 

Manjoo describes Pinterest as a "graphical social bookmarking site, a way to show off cool images you find online" and "a virtual pinboard of really pretty pictures."  "If you're into pictures," he says, "you should stop reading and sign up right now."  Of course, he notes that you should really only do so if you like pictures of cupcakes or home decor or Jake Gyllenhaal (shirtless).*

He admits that, theoretically, he should like Pinterest, in part because he likes "womanly interests" and "stereotypically feminine pursuits" like making yogurt and cooking.  But he says that when he tried to use the site to look for recipes, it came up short:

"The main problem was that they were all over the place; unlike my favorite food blogs, Pinterest’s food collection felt cluttered and chaotic, a mishmash that wasn’t personalized to my own tastes. Many people will thrive on this diversity, but I found it numbing."

Either Manjoo is determined not to like the site, or he's missed the point.  For starters, he failed to mention (and perhaps understand?) the primary use of the site - as a virtual bulletin board.  Manjoo focused solely on its social networking capacity, but the value for many users is as an online receptacle for images, recipes, and ideas that they want to save in a logical, organized way.  Though I do enjoy scrolling through the Pinterest pages, the majority of the images that I pin come not from Pinterest but from other internet sites. I pin them to a particular board so that I'll have them all in the same place and can easily reference them later.  I can even write comments on them, so that when I'm looking for something to make for my vegan dogwalker, I can go to my "yumsters" board and quickly find a recipe that I've identified as vegan-friendly.

Manjoo, on the other hand, is completely focused on the pictures and the social networking aspects of Pinterest.  While the site is filled with pictures, those pictures act mostly as a gateway to content.  When I pin an image, I am most often interested in the link that's associated with it.  The link brings me to a craft tutorial, a recipe, a home design idea, a new book that I want to read, a potential gift, etc.  And Pinterest users pin all sorts of things.  I recently began following another user who pins what she thinks is the best writing on the web.  The image she pins is whatever image was included in the article.  You'll notice that you're rarely on a webpage that doesn't have some image.

I wouldn't be so bothered by Manjoo's emphasis on the pictures if he hadn't used that as a way to subtly demean those people who favor the site by comparing pictures (which he's not interested in) to content (which he is interested in).

"But what bothers me most about Pinterest is its earnestness.  Unlike Tumblr, where people often post stuff just to make fun of it, Pinterest feels like the least cynical place on the web...and...the site first caught on among women in the Midwest.  Perhaps that explains why people don't Pin stuff ironically, or to convey any other emotion aside from full-throated, earnest appreciation.  This is not a site that will make you laugh.  Ever." 

What a brilliant display of full-throated, earnest coastal elitism. 

Manjoo magnanimously admits later in the article, "You could argue that the stuff I don't like about Pinterest isn't really a problem with the site, just with the kind of content it's attracted so far."  I would argue that there's absolutely nothing wrong with the content that Pinterest has attracted thus far, but it seems that Manjoo cannot admit that it's not for him without simultaneously belittling those who use it.  In truth, it seems that Manjoo doesn't actually have a problem with Pinterest, conceding that it will have its followers (and by all the current activity, it seems it will have many), but his earlier condescension leaves the impression that if you're one of those followers, you might be wise to feel at least a wee bit of shame for being so damned earnest. 

Mostly I feel sad for Manjoo that he's missing out on the opportunity to pin some awesome recipes and yogurt-making tutorials.  Or pictures of funny cats (which he states in the comments to his article do not amuse him).  Or a link to the most ironic photos of 2011, with the ability to capture the image of the funniest one.  He's written it off for now, but I suspect that Manjoo will be back around.  And I'll be glad to give him a little tutorial on how to use a bulletin board.

You can find me here on Pinterest!


*I'm not sure I've ever seen a shirtless picture of Jake Gyllenhaal on there, but the Ryan Gosling meme has me peeing in my pants.