Valued at a staggering $12 billion, Pinterest is one of the digital world’s most successful platforms.
Yet somehow, the image-sharing app has managed to sidestep the pitfalls that have tripped up some of Silicon Valley’s other big players, such as Twitter and its trolls, Facebook and its fake news and YouTube and its filter failures.
Pinterest, for those who aren’t familiar, is a visual search tool that works like a digital pin board, allowing users to save images (“pins”) to their own collections (“boards”). So, for example, a user might have a board called “meal ideas” full of images of different recipes.
The platform prides itself on its happy user base. That might seem like low-hanging fruit for an app with such a high valuation, but perhaps not given the mounting concern these days about depression and burnout caused by our fixation on social media.
Pinterest has faced its own problems in the past, such as when it had to ban “thinspiration” pins in 2012 because users were chasing unhealthy body ideals with pro-anorexia boards, but more recently, the platform has managed to avoid major controversies like those dogging its bigger rivals.
So, what is Pinterest doing differently?
Well, for starters, it doesn’t call itself a social network. It’s easy to think of Pinterest along the same lines as other image-sharing apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, but the company’s head of product, Lawrence Ripsher, describes it as a visual discovery tool.
In that sense, Pinterest is more of a utility, like a search engine, than a social network.
“It’s not really about connecting and sharing with friends, as much as it is a resource for your own interests,” Ripsher says.
If you save a new hairstyle to try, or place to visit, you’re not waiting for likes or for people to respond to it. You’re saving it for yourself.
“Our goal,” he says, “is to build products that complement people’s lives, and help them try something new.”
So, if Instagram is where you might go to share a curated selection of your best vacation photos, Pinterest is more where you plan the vacation. Or…