Pinterest, a media-based social networking service

We are all likely cognizant of the major social networking Web services, as they have become an integral part of many of our daily lives. I have written about Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus in this column, and have accounts on all three. I use Facebook and Google Plus almost daily but admittedly have not been on Twitter in several months.

I have been seeing a lot of references recently about another social networking service, Pinterest (pinterest.com), which is different than the other major social networking services in that it is based on “themed image boards” composed of images (and other media) uploaded from the members’ computers or media found online. If media is found online, it is added to the owner’s image board through the use of a “Pin It” button. When visiting Pinterest for the first time in order to write this column, my first impression was that it is millions of billboard-looking pages used by individuals (mostly women) to post images of interest, and by businesses to create virtual catalogs of their products.

According to its listing in Wikipedia, Pinterest is a fairly new social medial Web site launched in March 2010, and is managed by Palo Alto, Calif., based Cold Brew labs. Membership for full access to the Web site is required, and available by invitation only. At present, prospective users can receive an invite from current Pinterest users, or can apply for an invite at the top of the main page. While some contemporary blogs mention that invites are almost instant and automatic after requesting one from the Pinterest Web site, I received the following obviously automated response to my invite request: “ Hi! Thanks for joining the Pinterest waiting list. We’ll be sure to send you an invite soon. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter. You can also explore a few pins. We’re excited to get you pinning soon! — Ben and the Pinterest Team.” Once registered, Pinterest requires the user to link his Pinterest account with either a Facebook or Twitter account.

In exploring the Pinterest Web site, I viewed dozens of “boards” composed of a mix of media, each known as a “pin.” The pins were mostly photos and other images, but also included embedded videos and discussion threads. On mousing over any of the images, three buttons appear offering the user options to “RePin,” “Like” and “Comment.” The RePin process allows the viewer to add the image to his or her board, and the Like button works similar to the Like functions on other social networking Web sites, indicating the number of viewers who liked that particular media item. The Comment button allows the reader to post a comment under the image or other media device. The comments are all interlinked, and clicking on the name of the person who left the comment will open that individual’s board. At random, I clicked on the name “Jennifer” on a comment left on another’s board, and it opened Jennifer’s board. Jennifer’s board shows her personal activities and interests, as well as records her participation on Pinterest. In Jennifer’s case, she has created 15 of her own sub-boards, had 132 “pins” and 50 “likes.” Her personal board has 15 major areas of her individual choice: “My Style,” “Equus,” “Movie & Theater,” “Food & Drink,” “Funny,” and several other sections. Having my own sense of humor, I clicked on Jennifer’s “Funny” listings and opened up her collection of funny images and quotations. The header on her Funny page indicates that there are six followers of her Funny page, and 12 of her funny images have been “pinned” or used by others on their boards. As with all other images on Pinterest, each of the images has the same three buttons available, as did all of the images on the front page, allowing viewers to RePin, Comment or Like her images.

In doing a quick search for local content, I entered “Beaumont” and found hundreds of boards with the key word “Beaumont” in their name; many were individuals, organizations or businesses, but many were also cities with the name Beaumont. I found the Beaumont-based African Violet Society, a local commercial photographer, and the local Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), as well as several others. In looking at the CVB board, with its 16 sub-boards and 150 pins, a viewer can readily see some of the charm and attractions of Beaumont, and appropriate task and function of the CVB. Local museums, restaurants, special events, theater, shopping, architecture, art, religious activities, local sports, local businesses, and other local items of interest are highlighted. I found the “Beaumont Made” board listed under the CVB very refreshing, as it listed Douget’s Rice, TexJoy Seasonings, Seaport Coffee, Jason’s Deli, and a video history of famous Beaumont photographer Keith Carter. Pinned to the CVB’s “Local Flavor, Beaumont Style” board were images and other information about local restaurants and foods including Suga’s, Rao’s, Major League Grill, Chaba Thai Bistro, Koi Japanese Sushi Bar & Lounge, and the Beaumont Farmers Market.

While Pinterest offers a great deal of content from millions of people, businesses, and other organizations, it is not without controversy. A recent article in the Boston Business Journal titled “How your business could get sued for using Pinterest” explains why the Boston Business Journal removed all of its boards from Pinterest, citing the Pinterest users agreement. According to the Pinterest Users Agreement (pinterest.com/about/terms), “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, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. ... You represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms.” According to the Boston Business Journal article, this agreement opens the user to possible legal action by stating, “ Unless you know you have a “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license,” you’d better tread carefully. Similar concerns have been expressed by others in regards to the legal rights of items pinned on Pinterest.

Another issue, which has also come up on the other social networking services including Facebook and Twitter, is that scammers and phishers (identity thieves) have set up shop on Pinterest, a fact that caught the interest of such Internet security companies including TrendMicro and Symantec. In the past few weeks, scam images bearing the logos and images of reputable, well known companies have appeared in Pinterest boards. These rogue boards are offering incentives, such as high value gift cards for completing a survey (a common identity theft ploy). Clicking on the link connects to the scammer’s Web site, where the victim enters his personal information, which is then used by identity thieves. Victims are then encouraged to re-pin the original images (spread them further around Pinterest), in exchange for additional gifts or free products. Of course, the free products and gift cards are never delivered, and the victim’s identity is stolen. It needs to be repeated that scams like these are not unique to Pinterest, and do commonly occur on the other social networking services as well.

Pinterest offers a lot of potential as both a social networking service and as an advertising and promotion media. I plan to get involved on Pinterest and play with it for a while; it looks like a lot of fun, but I will be careful about what I do on the site.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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