How Pinterest Is Conquering the Internet—One Pin at a Time

Alden Wicker

PinterestSparkly, pink, girly … and a fearsome game changer.

Even if you have no interest in accessories, flowers, crockpot recipes or party planning, you’ve no doubt heard of Pinterest, a darling of both the startup world and American women looking to kill some time and show off their impeccable taste.

The site lets you organize (or “pin”) pictures into “boards,” allowing you to build an inspirational world of everything you love and covet. (We’ve talked about Pinterest several times before—the good and bad—and have our own boards.) It’s basic—pictures + links—and at the same time revolutionary.

What sets this very visual social network apart from other hot new startups is not only its outsized growth, but also the conundrum at the heart of its business model: Pinterest is making a lot of people and companies money, but isn’t itself earning a dime. Despite this, it’s transforming the world of e-commerce—and changing the lives of shoppers, the strategies of retailers and the dreams of copycat startups.

The Growth Power of ‘Pinning’

When it launched in 2010, Pinterest had just 200 users in its first few months—by invitation only. According to the latest official data collected by Nielson’s January 2013 Social Media Report, the site had more than 27 million users as of July 2012, and year-over-year PC user growth of 1,047%. Google+, by comparison, had only 80% growth. Yes, Pinterest clobbered Google—and every other social media network.

Pinterest launched new apps this year, as well, so you can pin on your computer, your tablet or even while you wait in line at the coffee shop on your phone—mobile usage grew 4,225%. It’s hiring hundreds of new employees, and has swank new headquarters in San Francisco’s SoMa district, according to an October profile by Fast Company.

In short, it is the fastest-growing web service in history.

RELATED: Facebook: From Billions of Likes to Billions of Dollars

A Better Way to Browse

Users are so obsessed with Pinterest partly because it represents a giant leap forward in web design. Currently, most websites organize content in a tree (from the homepage to the product) or a timeline or river of content. But Pinterest lets you organize and view by topic. Plus, you can choose to follow only certain boards of friends. So if you like someone’s style, but aren’t interested in oodles of cupcake recipes, no problem. The result—scroll, scroll, scroll, “oh!,” click, pin, scroll, scroll, scroll—is addictive. Users spent a collective 1,255,225,000 minutes on the site in 2012.

Its visual stream of stuff is also tailor-made for shopping. While searching Google for “piggy bank,” for example, produces tiny pictures of ugly banks, Pinterest yields a long, visual stream of upscale, kids and DIY piggy banks from every source possible that you can save—or buy—with a few clicks.

For this reason, shopping dominates the site. Pins that feature price tags get more likes, on average (1.5), than those without (1.1). And 80% of Pinterest’s top categories are connected to e-commerce.

Wired called Pinterest “grindingly materialistic.” Some call it the Best. Thing. Ever.

RELATED: Quiz: How Materialistic Are You?

  • Roberta

    what no pin button :)

  • Sharon Gilman

    I think the amount of growth Pinterest has gotten is irrelevant, considering they don’t make any money.