Growing interest in website Pinterest, a giant online pinboard

Several months ago, Kelly Douglas was cruising Twitter when mention of a website called Pinterest caught her attention. She visited the site — a giant online pinboard where users post inspirational images of everything from food to the perfect sunset — requested an invitation, and created an account.

“It wasn’t very active from what I could tell,” said Douglas, product manager for a software company. But Douglas was able to search images for recipes and craft projects she wanted to try. A simple click took her to the original source with instructions on how to make each item.

When she posted, “Pinterest, please discuss” on Facebook, comments ranging from “What is that?” to “Omigod, I love Pinterest!” flowed in. The next thing Douglas knew, 25 of her friends were fellow pinners.

Even Douglas’ 18-year-old daughter caught the bug, and now the mom and daughter share everything from cute dog pictures to hair colors on boards they’ve created for each other. Douglas, 45, of Atlanta, spends a couple of hours each day searching for things like do-it-yourself projects .

Pinterest was founded last year in Palo Alto, Calif., and has quickly become the new darling of social media. Users ranging from brides-to-be to bloggers to major retailers have all found utility in what company co-founder Ben Silbermann describes as an online pinboard that helps you collect and explore what inspires you.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get that directly from Silbermann. Things are so busy at Pinterest headquarters that our interview request was denied because the 14-person team (which we counted on the “About” page) is “very pressed for time right now,” according to an emailed response from community manager Enid Hwang.

Silbermann is a Yalie who started the company with fellow alum Paul Sciarra and friend Evan Sharp. The site lists nine investors, including Kevin Hartz of EventBrite and Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, who funded the startup with almost $40 million. ComScore, a company that provides data on digital behavior, said the site had 4.9 million unique visitors in November, up from about 400,000 in May when the company first began measuring Pinterest users. About 70 percent of users are female, and all users tend to come from upper-income households.

Pinterest users are a target market that would make many advertisers giddy, but like many other startups, Pinterest isn’t currently making money, according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek report. Some companies that might pay to reach Pinterest users, such as J. Crew and Whole Foods Market, are reaching them for free via pinboards on the site.

Users say the best thing about Pinterest is that it is visual, allowing them to quickly sift through things that catch their attention. They can post images of items they think are cool by installing a “pin it” button in their bookmark toolbar. Users can follow the pins of other users, re-pin pins, leave comments on pins and pin to boards shared by people with a common interest on virtually any topic.

Bloggers use Pinterest to find sourced images for their blogs while also promoting their blogs, brides use it to plan weddings, retailers use it to support their brands, and almost everyone uses it to find yummy recipes.

“I love to cook. I end up finding recipes all over the place. Instead of printing them out and stashing them in cookbooks ... it is nice to go online to one place and have a whole list of things I want to make at some point,” said Emily Cannon, 25, of Brookhaven.

Planning, promotion

But the site also allows Cannon to take the pulse of what is happening in the world. “I like to see what people are seeing, what they are talking about and what they are into,” she said. And as with other social networking communities, those benefits go both ways.

When Cannon pinned the image of the groom’s cake from her April wedding, an editor at contacted her for permission to use the image in a feature on unique grooms’ cakes.

Unlike other social networking communities, Cannon said Pinterest seems to go deeper. “Facebook is your pictures and where you’ve been and who you’ve been with. Twitter is ... what restaurants you love and what you want to buy. Pinterest is beyond just your social life, it goes a little bit deeper, and it has a little bit of a different angle.”

For local blogger Tiffany Scales, it has become a tool for marketing and managing her blog on food, fashion and interior design.

“Pinterest allows you to organize all of these pictures you like to collect and gives you a source for the photos,” said Scales, 32, of Atlanta. “It helped me find other blogs. It creates a community for bloggers and magazines, and is a great advertising tool for anybody who publishes anything.”

As a burgeoning company, Pinterest does have some growing pains.

The iPhone app is very buggy, said many users. Complaints range from page-loading issues to one user who said her more than 800 pins never show up if she connects via the app. Anyone hoping to join the invitation-only site should have an existing member invite them. Users have reported waiting weeks for invitations requested directly from the website. And finally, there is always the looming concern among users that all of the fun may one day no longer be free.

For now, users such as Douglas and her daughter, Ashley Rodger, a freshman at the University of West Georgia, continue to find ways to leverage the site’s benefits. Douglas said she and her daughter are exploring ways to use Pinterest to launch a line of Greek letter organization-themed paper products, some of which were inspired by pins they saw on Pinterest.

“[Pinterest] is very driven by people who are curious and creative,” said Douglas, “and they are sharing creative knowledge.”