At Slate’s annual retreat last summer, Holly Allen, one of the magazine’s Web designers, buttonholed me and exclaimed, “Have you heard of Pinterest? You’ve got to write about it!” I hadn’t heard about it, and rather than explain what it is—because while Pinterest is many things, easy to explain isn’t one of them—she rushed to get her iPad to show me the site.
Since then, I’ve noticed paeans to Pinterest everywhere I go. Several readers have exhorted me to write about it, calling it their favorite new thing on the Web. I’ve spotted Pinterest stickers on laptops at the offices of both Facebook and Google. And every day, my Facebook and Twitter feeds brim with links to Pinterest. This mania got me thinking that I really should write about why Pinterest is so wonderful, and how it’s the hottest new social site since Tumblr. There’s only one problem: I just don’t get it.
OK, I understand the very basics: Pinterest is a graphical social bookmarking site, a way to show off cool images you find online. Its motto should be, “If you see something, Pin something.” When you find a picture on the Web that you like—Diane Von Furstenberg boots, blue velvet cupcakes, Amy Adams—click the Pin It button to send the image to your Pinterest page. People on Pinterest can follow your Pins, and you can follow theirs. This may sound similar to any number of other services online—Pinterest shares some features with Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, StumbleUpon, and Tumblr—but the site’s novel design encourages more ferocious bookmarking and consumption of those bookmarks. Pinterest displays your friends’ pictures in a striking, forever-scrolling table, a virtual pinboard of really pretty pictures. If you’re into pictures—especially of fashion, home décor, food, and animals—you should stop reading and sign up right now.
I suspect that my problem with Pinterest is that I’m just not that into pictures of fashion, home décor, food, and animals. Most of Pinterest’s users are women, and the pictures that greet you when you visit for the first time show off stereotypically feminine pursuits. Indeed, many of the site’s users jokingly refer to Pinterest as an outlet for nonsexual porn for women—food porn, furniture porn, fashion porn. (The site’s terms bar nudity, which is interpreted narrowly enough to permit lots and lots of shirtless photos of Jake Gyllenhaal.)
I’m not the sort of man who shies away from traditionally womanly interests—I’d rather make yogurt than watch sports—so I didn’t turn away from Pinterest immediately. For one thing, I thought it could be a good place to find new recipes. But I couldn’t get into it that way. I linked Pinterest to my Facebook account, which let me browse through my Facebook friends’ Pins. While I found that lots of these people had posted wondrous pictures of food—and there were many more pictures in Pinterest’s Food category, which shows me stuff from everyone, not just my friends—the actual recipes they linked to weren’t that interesting to me. 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.