“Starting today…the egg is history. Twitter is dumping the tarnished icon for a new default profile picture–a blobby silhouette of a person’s head and shoulders, intentionally designed to represent a human without being concrete about gender, race, or any other characteristic. Everyone who’s been an egg until now, whatever their rationale, will automatically switch over.”
I’ve been known to mock coverage of logo redesigns at large technology companies; especially those projects that end up with something looking like clip-art from a stock service. (For instance, that time I explained how Hammock Inc.’s logo was designed.)
In an era when “content creators” are judged by the number of keywords they can pack between commas, it’s nice to read the way Harry demonstrates the craft of writing with both wit and insight.:
Instead of defaulting to the perfectly spherical head of a restroom-signage figure, the designers began playing with other approaches. They gravitated toward a gumdrop-like shape and found it had Rorschach Test-like qualities. “The second you start playing with head shape, you start thinking, ‘Oh, this might not just be a single gender,’” says Cotton. “Is that a man with a beard? Is that a woman with a bob?” Rounding off the shoulders, they found, also helped them create a symbol for “human being” that wasn’t freighted with any specific characteristics.
That said, I don’t think this is going to be one of those days that people will recall and feel the need to tell their grandchildren where they were the day they heard the news that Twitter got rid of the egg.
Two following tweets are from NPR’s Supreme Court correspondent @NinaTotenberg about the death of Justice Scalia. Compare specifically how many people re-tweet and like the “tweet about the actual news” vs. “the tweet about what she was doing when she heard the news.”
The fact that NPR listeners have re-tweeted the “news process” story far more than the “news” story mean only one thing about NPR listeners:
1. NPR Listeners are fascinated with the process of journalism exhibited by one of the foremost experts on the Supreme Court.
I used to write a lot about Twitter. For example, here is a collection of 10,000+ words I wrote in a series of blog posts called “Thoughts on Twitter.” In brief, all those words say that Twitter was (they were written years ago) great because no two people use it the same way. And anyone who tried to explain how one was supposed to use Twitter broke the first rule of Twitter: You can’t make up rules for how others use Twitter. Back then, Twitter was a feature of a failed product (Odeo) that lived on past the product failure to become an easy means to send out a group text message. Back then, the cool things about Twitter were being created by its users. [Most obvious example: @ChrisMesinna (not the actor) who is responsible for the #hashtag.]
Rather than repeat any more of those 10,000 words, I’ll stop there and say, Twitter is best when you realize it now belongs to someone else, someone who tomorrow could decide that the #hashtag should be a ~tilde or the star should become a heart.
Twitter is now like professional football. Imagine if all football was eight years ago was (hash)tag football played in a parking lot and today it had to be the NFL, a $billion business that has to make money from huge advertisers and fans who just want to see the game and buy a hot dog.
People say, “professional sports are no longer about the game, they are just part of the entertainment business.” But people who are really fans of a specific sport or team can find a way to peer through the hype and corporate greed and recognize that somewhere buried in all that crap, the game still exists.
Bottomline: Like it, or favorite it, Twitter belongs to the people who own it, not the people who use it. The people who run it will keep trying to “fix” it so the owners will like it. The people who use it will put up with all those useless “fixes” if they can recognize that it’s still tag football under all that crap. If they don’t see the game, they’ll use it to promote what they are doing somewhere else that’s more fun.
For this post, forget all of that stuff and let’s try to explore what Pinterest is, is not, maybe could be, but likely won’t be.
These are my opinions based on several credentials that I have never before even considered credentials. But after reading a massive amount of crap over the past week, I feel certain these make me more of an expert on Pinterest than most of the people who wrote that crap.
First credential: I’ve actually used Pinterest for several weeks before writing about it. I started using it right after Christmas, because I knew this time would come and I didn’t want to write about what I think it is, but what I know it is from being a user.
The account I have used to learn about Pinterest is Pinterest.com/smallbusiness, if you’d like to check it out. It is a collection of “boards” about topics that I think are better displayed visually than with text. I chose the topic of small business for two other reasons I consider credentials. First, I host the wiki, SmallBusiness.com which means I devote lots of time to the taxonomy of web-based information designed for a specific audience, a credential that helps me understand anything related to categories and niche content. More importantly, I have actively “pinned” (although I use the more common web-word, “bookmarked,”) small business related articles for over five years, using Delicious.com/smallbusiness, a service I suggest at the end of this post, is becoming Pinterest-like, yet in a more open-web-friendly way. On Delicious.com, I have bookmarked and categorized almost 6,000 news articles, blog posts and other information.
The genealogy of Pinterest: Bookmarking hyperlinks
First, some background.
One of the benefits and/or handicaps of participating for 20 years in activities that now have labels like social media or user-generated content is that I can’t pretend that what I see today isn’t built on foundations that were laid a long time ago.
I was there when blogging first gained popularity (this blog goes way-back) so I know that in the early days, a big part of what I did on this blog was bookmark articles that were of interest to me that I thought would be of interest of the people I worked with. What I didn’t realize was that people who I didn’t work with would find those links of interest also.
Because this blog first started on a blogging platform created by Dave Winer, a person who pioneered and evangelized and defended with great passion (and continues to) many of the conventions that have evolved into what is popularly labeled, “social media,” I learned by subscribing to his RSS feed that, over time, posting bookmarks of news articles can be some of the best blogging there is. Over the years, I’ve discovered that “link blogs” like Andy Baio’s Waxy.org/links are the key to staying aware of things I’d never know about were it not for his willingness to share things from parts of the web I’d never see. (I once asked Andy something people ask me all the time, “Where do you find that stuff?” His answer was something like, “I have a constantly edited newsreader.” Wow, I thought. That’s my answer, also.)
So why do I mention all of this?
Because, at its core functionality and utility, Pinterest is a link blog. Moreover, it belongs to a category of link blogs we used to call bookmarking services. In presentations I’ve made for over five years, I have used a slide called, “sharing links” as a personal expression that I equate to posting photos or video or text or audio.
Indeed, I could argue (and heck, I’ll go ahead and do so) link blogging is the most valuable form of personal expression there is on the web.
Why? Because, when you break it all down, the most radical, revolutionary and disruptive thing on the web is the hyperlink.
Hyperlinks are so valuable to the web that a multi-billion dollar industry has sprung up based solely on trying to insert links into the web in ways that are, at times, ethical, and at other times, criminal.
A web without hyperlinks would be nothing more than an information Superhighway where only the big brands could afford locations next to the rest stops and exits. Without hyperlinks, the web would be the way giant media companies envisioned it back in the early 1990s — visions that flopped like Time Warner’s interactive television.
Strip Pinterest down to its underwear and you’ll discover a robust platform for creating and organizing hyperlinks that is based on the same principles that started out with early blogs (and back before we called them blogs) and that today, when packaged differently, are the basis of anything that aggregates recommended links in new ways ranging from Flipboard to whatever Twitter turns Summify into.
What makes Pinterest special?
Pinterest is a pure-play book-marking service however it has followed a brilliant plan other successful social media platforms have followed: In describing itself to potential users, it doesn’t mention anything related to technology, social media, blogs, or especially bookmarking. Perhaps, using the “pin” metaphor instead of the “bookmark” metaphor was its most brilliant move.
Pinterest is successful, in part, because it doesn’t look like anything geeky or “link bloggish.” It’s pretty and minimal and utilizes a metaphor that’s as un-geekish as anything imaginable, a bulletin board. (On second thought, bulletin boardcan be a geekish metaphor.)
It is drop-dead simple to use. Wait. It’s even more simple than that.
It’s what people mean when they say, “build a better mouse trap.”
Pinterest is an incredibly better mouse trap for certain kinds of users.
It’s the kind of thing you use for the first time and wonder why this is the first time you’ve ever used something like this. Except you have, but it’s so much better, you don’t recognize it.
Why then, do I appear not as mesmerized as others about Pinterest? Nor as outraged about it as still others?
First off, if you go to that Pinterest account I’ve been maintaining, I think it will show that I believe it can be a wonderful platform for doing what I’ve done there.
Unfortunately, that’s showing off how it’s a better mousetrap. Not how it’s going to change the world — or even be the best mousetrap. To sustain the wave of micro-celebrity it has received during the past few weeks, it must continually improve its mouse-trappery.
When I first started looking at Pinterest, I thought they’d made a mistake by focusing on a narrow demographic: Women who have certain hobbies or interests that have already done scrap-booking and pinning offline. When I first saw it, I thought they should have done like Twitter and let different demographics discover what they could do with the platform. (Pinterest, by adding “sports” and other “manly” topics seems to be attempting to retrofit its image, and if 32% of its users are males, those topics might be working — or those 32% might be males who are into crafts and decorating and cooking, and me.)
After using it a couple of months, I’ve decided they were smart to focus on a defined marketplace because to become a platform for all people and all topics is going to be impossible for them. That would be a war. They are going to be too busy fighting lots of battles to win that war.
Is Pinterest a den of thieving pirates?
Without getting into it, there are some who are suggesting that a lot of the photography that’s appearing on those Pinterest boards are copyrighted images stolen from their owners. While I’m not a lawyer, I’ll pretend to know what I’m talking about for the sake of argument. I think it is silly to suggest Pinterest users are doing something equivalent to people who upload pirated movies onto Megaupload (as stated on some highly visible blog posts during the past couple of days). However, it is not silly to suggest what Pinterest is doing pushes the envelop on some previously court-blessed uses of web content that could provide more rounds of legal wrangling on the topic of photography usage on the web.
Without getting too deeply into this topic, you have to consider the Pinterest image issue in the context of legal decisions that enable Google’s “image search” to provide search-results pages filled with images it doesn’t own. However, you’ll notice on Google’s search-results pages that no Google ads appear. Why not? Because such ads would make it easier for a plaintiff to argue that Google is monetizing content being scraped from another site.
If you’ve followed the Pinterest saga over the past week, you know that Pinterest did have a model of monetizing certain links on pages where scrapped photography appears. However, once discovered, Pinterest dropped that practice. (A side geeky and legal-theory issue for anyone who has made it this far: On Google, the thumbnails are hosted on Google servers, but when you click on the image and see it enlarged, the image appears to be the one hosted on the site linked to. Logically, this would seem to be a practice that would enable Pinterest to claim it doesn’t “download” images. They could also use the type of logic the app Flipboard uses when it claims the images appearing via it service are being fed via RSS and that users are merely seeing images they have subscribed to as permitted by the blog or website on which the image originated. In other words, if Pinterest is targeted as a thief, companies like Google and Flipboard and hundreds of others might have reason to join forces in defending it.)
Bottomline, in my opinion: The Pinterest model of being a visual bookmarking service is probably legal — and is probably beneficial to the owners of the copyrighted material to whom Pinterestest users are sending traffic. But being wrong never stopped people from suing. [Later: LLSocial.com reports that Pinterest has made some code available to any website that wants to block the site’s user from pinning its photos. While I doubt too many take them up on it, this will provide Pinterest some room for defending itself against claims that it encourages piracy. I’m not sure the internet (the opinion-shaping people part) will view this opt-out approach as being much more than window dressing, however).]
Is Pinterest the next Facebook, Twitter et al?
But I’m not sure it wants to be, nor needs to be, in order to be successful. There are lots of ways to be successful without being Facebook or Twitter. Pinterest has a good product for its targeted audience. If it becomes a dominant player in that market, there’s lots of ways to make everyone associated with it very rich.
Another thing: While Pinterest is an awesome way to create a visual display of bookmarked photos, my six weeks of using it has convinced me that it is dependent 100% on its users, but it rejects lots of conventions that all of the other social media platforms its being compared to are based on. The lack of these conventions (keyword tagging, exportability of user-contributed data, only one type of RSS feed) mean that developers who could create easy extensions to the site won’t feel so inclined.
On the other hand, I look at what is taking place at a service like Delicious.com and I see a platform that is doing everything Pinterest is doing, including transforming one of the most anti-user-friendly experiences in the social media space into one of the best ones. A site like Delicious, whose current owners started YouTube, know how to create a platform that can be adapted into anything the user wants to turn it into…and know that to do that, you have to be as friendly as possible to the open web.
In the coming weeks, I’ll demonstrate what I mean when I compare Delicious to Pinterest, as there will be those who claim the two have nothing in common.
But just wait. You’ll see.
[Later: I was reminded later about a similar time in its development when I wrote a lot about what Twitter is (existentially, speaking) and recalled that I had once pointed to a post by Fred Wilson, in which he said, “Twitter has never been about technology….Twitter, like all social media, is about the people who use it.” Bottomline, Pinterest is, too.]