Pinterest: A cutesy time-waster or useful Internet tool?

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From its clean, no-nonsense design to its personalized, colorful, vibrant images, Pinterest has taken the Internet by storm, especially among college-age adults.

Pinterest is frequently thought of as a time-waster, especially to people who don’t have an account, despite the company’s stated goal of getting people off the couch and into hobbies.

Pinterest workers check out the apps for iPads and iPhones designed for pinners on-the-go.
Pinterest workers check out the apps for iPads and iPhones designed for pinners on-the-go.

The site functions as a personalized scrapbook for its millions of users. Users create “boards” by “pinning” pictures and links onto their boards that can be accessed for later use. The homepage is a never-ending stream of personalized pictures and links other users have “pinned.” Pinterest is a bit like window shopping. It enables users to see glimpses into things that they might want to have, or make, and then allows them more information if they click on the link.

Kelsey Blickenstaff, a 20-year-old junior recreation management major, is a long-time Pinterest user. When Blickenstaff first got a Pinterest account, she didn’t know what to do with it.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff there was,” Blickenstaff said. “At the beginning it was a big time waster … but now I have been able to use it as a real tool.”

Blickenstaff frequently uses Pinterest for its recipes, though she does make tweaks to them when she needs to. She said Pinterest users have to take in their level of experience before they try to make some of the more complicated recipes.

“I think definitely you have to go into it thinking, ‘Am I good at making cupcakes?'” Blickenstaff said. “Obviously you are not going to make the (perfect cupcakes) on the first try. The person who posted that picture does that as a major part of their life.”

Blickenstaff likes experimenting with and learning from the pins she finds.

“This is why I like it … it involves a measure of your own creativity,” Blickenstaff said.

Ben Silbermann, the co-founder of Pinterest, spoke at the Alt Summit in Salt Lake City in January on how Pinterest got started and what the purpose of Pinterest is.

“Pinterest is the place to plan the most important projects of your life,” Silbermann said. “The (technology) services that I have always loved … don’t cut you off from the world around you, they are the ones that make you feel closer to the things that you care about.”

Silbermann said from the time he was a child collecting bugs for his bug collection, he has always enjoyed collecting things he was passionate about. Pinterest allows everyone to enjoy that same pleasure and share what they like with others.

Pinterest headquarters in Silicon Valley is a hub of activity.
Pinterest headquarters in Silicon Valley is a hub of activity.

“It is really exciting to see regular people who use Pinterest using it for the things that they are most passionate about,” Silbermann said.

The purpose of the company is not to just allow people to look at pretty pictures online; it is to get them active and doing something, Silbermann said. He then gave a quote from re-nest.com.

“They (re-nest.com) said, ‘It is no longer about just sharing beautiful photos or inspiring creativity, the site (Pinterest) has inspired people to DO something! People are picking up hobbies, cooking dinner, planning weddings and sharing new ideas,'” Silbermann said. “Our mission is not to keep you online, it’s to get you offline. Pinterest should inspire you to go out and do the things you love.”

PJ Andersen, a BYU grad who works for Pinterest, shared the practical application to college students.

“Pinterest is really appealing to college-age kids because it’s an awesome tool to help you plan your future,” Andersen said in an email. “College kids also have a ton of interests that they’re constantly discovering and developing, and Pinterest helps you discover and do the things you love.”

Andersen said Pinterest is currently working on getting the pins to connect to actionable items.

“We are trying to make pins more actionable, and we’re trying to create better discovery experiences,” Andersen said in an interview. “We want to make it really easy for you to discover things on Pinterest that are going to be so perfect for you. Things that you’ll want to collect for yourself on a board and then do something with in the future.”

Andersen then spoke about people who haven’t yet found Pinterest.

“If they just look, they could actually find everything that they are interested in right there,” Andersen said.

Discovering, unfortunately, takes time. Jamie Littlefield, in her About.com article “Top 10 Time Wasters that are Ruining Your Grades,” identifies Pinterest as the third top time-wasting internet site.

“Pinterest is a particularly sneaky time waster. You think you’re just going to spend 30 seconds glancing at the screen and look up to see that you’ve been imagining new projects for the last three hours.”

Educationoption.com addresses this issue by providing a guide for students to use Pinterest in a helpful way. The article is titled “The College Student’s Guide to Pinterest,” and it lists five ways to make Pinterest useful: finding good, quick recipes instead of take-out every night, using organization tools for the dorm room, finding good books, finding spring break ideas and promoting yourself.

“Pinterest is the perfect place to promote yourself,” Educationoption.com said. “You’ve already got the attention of thousands of people; use it to your advantage by getting people to share your images. If you’re a crafter, you can sell your goods through Pinterest to make some money on the side. Sure beats an after-class job.”

Blickenstaff might not be willing to start her own crafty business yet, but, like many BYU students, she is always interested in learning something new.

“People who want to start something can,” Blickenstaff said. “You can learn a new skill from Pinterest. … It is not just for the skilled crafter.”

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