Fortune: Is Pinterest the Next Facebook?


Given the growing (and obnoxious) media cacophony surrounding Pinterest, it’s becoming rather difficult to ignore the Internet’s current social networking darling. With each passing day, Pinterest seems to shed its projected stereotype as a female-centric social network, and take several steps toward a fairly well-deserved role as a serious contender in the Internet arena.

Unsurprisingly, such success has prompted rampant discussion of Pinterest’s long-term viability. And, in turn, such discussion has led to the painfully inevitable question: “Is Pinterest the next Facebook?” Posed by Jessi Hempel for Fortune, Jessi writes:

It’s clear from the new user page that the Facebook ethos has rubbed off on Pinterest. Each user can upload a profile photo, and there’s a stream of continually updating pinboards, not unlike the information on Facebook. Pinterest uses Facebook Connect to let Facebook members log on to Pinterest and opt to publish their activity to their Facebook newsfeed. But as Pinterest gains traction, it becomes a potential threat to the social media giant. Facebook has pretty much captured the U.S. market for subscribers, so its growth is likely to come from engagement — keeping users on the site longer. As more people spend more time pinning — and revealing to marketers the kinds of hobbies and objects they covet — it may cut into the time they have to spend on Facebook.

Following the hiring of Tim Kendall, the creator of Facebook’s monetization strategy, such a question is (cosmetically) fair to consider, but the question overlooks the very nature of Pinterest.

Pinterest — much like Twitter and Instagram — is dedicated to doing one thing exceptionally well, but it certainly does not portend to undermine Facebook. Pinterest facilitates the sharing of images, products, and design, but it lacks any semblance of a true interconnected social strategy. Although you can “follow” people, the relationship does not proceed further than literally viewing the cosmetic interests of others.

Pinned images are to Pinterest what Tweets are to Twitter. You may reply, re-share with your own followers, or save those pins for later, but Pinterest’s interactions lack any semblance of depth. Although images and products may betray a person’s aesthetic interests — as the social network’s name suggests — the nature of Pinterest does not allow for the true inter-personal connections that you might find on Twitter or Facebook.

Above all, Pinterest is a prominent agent of the impending shift in social media, insofar as it does not attempt to encompass all social activities — only one. Just as Twitter excels with textual updates, Instagram with photography, and Path with private sharing, Pinterest facilitates the sharing of aesthetic interests and leanings.

It’s important to acknowledge that Facebook encompasses all such functionality, but does not particularly excel at any.

From my perspective, it is not a question of which specific social network will usurp Facebook’s position, but what combination of them will. Pinterest coupled with Twitter, Path, and Instagram allows for a fairly broad social landscape — one that is interconnected and one that excels in far more areas than Facebook might attempt. The rise of powerful APIs characterizes an environment in which competitors may achieve a loose form of connectivity without the need for directly absorbing functionality. In this environment, the all-encompassing mediator, Facebook, is unnecessary.

Given the relatively small scale and intent of such networks, they are far more responsive to end-user desire. Facebook, on the other hand, is stifled by its sheer magnitude.

One significant differentiating factor between these smaller networks, however, is Pinterest’s obviously viable business model. As a social network dedicated to the facilitation of an attractive and influential medium between consumer and product, Pinterest is well positioned to swivel into a monetization strategy between these two entities. As such, I imagine the platform’s value will grow exponentially over the coming months.

Despite the aforementioned strength and potential of Pinterest, it would be foolish to misconstrue such viability as evidence of Pinterest usurping Facebook’s dominance. Facebook and Pinterest are fundamentally different and, while Pinterest may compliment other social networks and chip away at Facebook’s active userbase, it simply does not pose a threat as a Facebook replacement.

Regardless of reason, I dishearteningly imagine it’s only a matter of days before we are greeted with a new “Is Pinterest the Next ?” article. Such is the nature of the media.

Incidentally, you can follow my experimentations with Pinterest here.