The Pinterest Problem
I have a serious love/hate relationship with Pinterest. I want to see what a certain paint color looks like in a room? Pinterest search. A client wants to communicate her style but has trouble articulating it? Pin board. I have some vague memory of an obscure look that I may have seen two years ago? Pinterest to the rescue!
So, yeah. I use Pinterest. Kind of a lot. But I also kind of hate it. Let’s not even discuss the questionable-at-best DIY projects or alarming recipes (though if I see another “diet” recipe starring low fat cream cheese I may throw my laptop out the window). My concern is that Pinterest – and, increasingly, other sharing networks – has become a dead end for creativity. There are plenty of gorgeous photos on Pinterest. Tons of inspiration. Those images we love are the end result of a lot of hard work, but more often than not you’re not going to see who’s responsible for that work.
I credit every photo on this blog that I didn’t take myself, so I often wind up down an internet rabbit hole trying to find the original source of a photo I want to use. Sometimes this search leads me to a great interior designer or groovy new store. Sometimes it drops me at a random Tumblr page with no further information. When I can’t find the source of a photo, I don’t use it. And even on the off chance that the information I want is right there in the Pinterest caption, there’s no knowing without further research if that information is accurate. I recently saw that a paint company had pinned a photo of my living room to their board, with a caption detailing which paint to use to get the look. I was grateful for the exposure, but a bit confused since that wasn’t the brand of paint I used. There’s a lot of misleading information on Pinterest, and the further an image gets from its original source, the harder it is to get to the truth of what you’re seeing.
Pinterest makes it so easy to share other people’s work. I mean, yes, that’s kind of the whole point. And while that can lead to great things, like exposure for an artist or finding your new favorite blog, it often leads to more of the same. Because Pinterest pushes popular pins to the top, big names and companies get more views, more repins, more likes, and even more time at the top. So if, for example, a food blogger’s shot gets picked up by a larger magazine, the magazine’s pin will get all the attention. Which can be a great, mutually beneficial relationship. But it also means that the food blogger is at the mercy of the magazine to properly credit and link to the original source.
And while Pinterest is an obvious actor here, it’s not the only one. I love me some Instagram, but as that platform becomes monetized, the pressure to share perfect photos grows, and that in turn leads to people reposting others’ photos for some easy likes. Sometimes the photos are credited with the original source, and that can be nice exposure. Sometimes all you get is a “from Pinterest” in the caption. (Um, Pinterest doesn’t take photos.) Sometimes a well-meaning person tries to tag you but uses the wrong name and you’re too embarrassed to correct her (I’m pathetic). With the news that Instagram is planning to ditch its chronological timeline in favor of an algorithm, I wonder if this pressure to share perfect photos just in order to be seen will lead to more reposting with even less crediting.
(And, by the way, that’s going to be a bummer. I am constantly baffled by what Facebook thinks I care about. Sorry, college friend’s ex-boyfriend who I haven’t unfriended because I feel oddly guilty, but I am super duper uninterested in those politically-charged memes you keep sharing. And Pinterest, whyyy do you think I want to see the aforementioned low-fat cream cheese recipes? Cream cheese belongs on a bagel with lox, in all its full-fatted glory.)
So who cares? If you’re killing time decorating your imaginary beach house on Pinterest then it probably doesn’t matter who photographed those herringbone wood floors. That’s fair. I care for the purposes of this blog, but I am certainly guilty of repinning something I liked without a second thought to who created it and whether that person was credited. That said, I think we should care, even if it’s just a little. And more importantly, I think platforms like Pinterest should care too. Pinterest, Instagram, and most online publications exist because other people share their work there. Many don’t pay their contributors, instead promising exposure for their work (and that is a controversy all its own). So what happens when that “exposure” becomes an uncredited pin or untagged ‘gram? Getting your work seen isn’t terribly helpful if no one knows it’s yours.
What’s your experience? Fellow bloggers, this is probably something we think about more than the average user. Do you just pin what makes you happy? Or do you try to get the story behind that pin?
Arielle writes about bold design and strong drinks at Scotch & Nonsense.