I have a confession to make: I hate Pinterest.
No, that’s not exactly right. There’s more to it than simple loathing. I hate Pinterest and I wish it would die a fiery death, not just for my sake, but for the sake of all humankind.
There, that’s better. Phew! Feels good to get that off my chest. Now, before you release the Internet hounds, allow me to explain.
First, the basics
For the uninitiated, Pinterest, in the most basic sense, is a place where people go to share and view images. The images can come from pretty much anywhere online (at least the non-nude parts) and the site makes it easy to share them (Pinterest calls it “pinning”) with just a click.
Each user can organize their photos (videos, too, though they’re much less common) into various “pinboards.” So if I’m browsing the Web and I see a photo of dog that I like, I can pin it to a pinboard called “Dogs.” This is both a social and self-interested act, because while things posted to Pinterest are public by default and can be “liked” or commented on, they also live in your own virtual space where they can be called upon later when you need them. The next time I’m in the market for a dog and am browsing the pet store, I can pull up my “Dogs” pinboard to show the shopkeeper what I’m looking for.
Pinterest was launched almost exactly two years ago, and for most of that time the site was sleepy and a bit insular (invites are still required to join, but these days they’re easy to come by). Beginning late last year, though, it began to pick up steam—especially, and unexpectedly, among women. That’s when it exploded.
This January, comScore reported that, during the prior month, Pinterest racked up 11.7 million unique views—a number that’s pretty much unprecedented for a site its age. Since then, most people who pay attention to these sorts of things (including us!) have declared Pinterest The Next Big Thing.
Why Pinterest is The Worst
Here is why Pinterest is The Worst: the site, in its current form, is a slick cesspool of twee hopes and self-absorbed dreams; it channels and encourages the most regrettable impulses of the social web; and siphons content from creative enclaves while offering almost nothing in return.
Now, according to my Gmail records, I’ve been a member of Pinterest since July 7, 2010, so I more or less saw how this fire started. But you don’t have to spend much time with Pinterest to get a sense of the deep, pervasive superficiality that has become the site’s bread and butter. These days the homepage consists of a lot of “Hang in there cat”-style memes, photos of models in pointy shoes, and artful, well-lit snapshots of desserts made by someone with more time and talent than you.
This is the world of Pinterest not because it's "female driven," but because it’s what happens when you empower people not to create, but to share. Even by social network standards, Pinterest represents an all-time low in terms of capacity to enable valuable human activities. It’s Facebook without the powerful communication and community building tools, Tumblr without the platform for authentic personal expression, Instagram with no photography or photo editing required.
On Pinterest, one merely co-opts and shares images that have purportedly “inspired” them. This, in a soft light, could be viewed as a kind of generosity. But the focus here is as much on the pinner as it is on that which was pinned. Pinterest users jostle for the elusive Internet resource known as “followers,” so the game is to post the most beautiful/humorous/awe-inspiring images/memes/products—the vast majority of which were more than likely created or owned by someone else, but nevertheless confer upon you status, or value, or relevance by association. More so than any of its contemporaries, Pinterest indulges an ethos that says: I like, therefore I am.
Pinterest’s guidelines encourage users to cite the originator of the work being pinned, but, predictably, most on the site don’t seem too worried about all of that. By the looks of it, you’re about as likely to be credited for your work being posted on Pinterest as you are on Tumblr, which is to say not likely. Late last month, the site was forced to release a “nopin” HTML code that would enable other sites to keep their content from being pinned without permission, something Flickr implemented almost immediately.
It may be too much to ask, at this point, for our social media to aspire to anything more than the perpetuation of “average time spent” numbers into infinity. For the inexorable momentum of life online to be leveraged for adding to the human experience, even as it warps and redefines it. But surely we can ask for more than Pinterest, which is a blight on the modern Web. The world that this “virtual pinboard” promises is as hollow as a needle.