Is Pinterest a Facebook killer?

A Pinterest screenshot. The small social site is growing quickly.

No one would argue that Facebook is the reigning king of social media. It has 800 million members, for one thing. In filing for its initial public offering, the company said that it would like to eventually reach all two billion of the people estimated to be online, but Facebook admits that that's unlikely. So growth has slowed.

But just because you're the king, that doesn't mean you'll sit on the throne all fat and content forever. Read your Shakespeare, folks -- the king is never safe. You might want to keep an eye on a site called Pinterest. It had 4,000 percent growth from July to December of this year and currently boasts 2.5 million members even though it's still invitation-only. This is a meteoric rise reminiscent of the early days of, well, Facebook. 

On Pinterest, users find images of things they like online and stick a virtual pin in them in order to post them to their virtual bulletin boards. Right now, there's a whole lot of material about food and crafts and fashion. Then when you're looking through what other people have posted, you tend to follow interests rather than specific people. "I might have 12 boards with 1,100 items," says William Ward, social media professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, "but one interest is I work on cars, so I have a board that shows my cars and projects tracked with pictures. You might follow it because you also enjoy cars. I might have another board that's about fashion items. Someone else might follow it because of their interest in my fashion. You and that person would have different experiences of what I'm doing with my social network."

All those pictures make the site very compelling. "With the visual element, there's that classic explanation 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' If we go back, blogs were an early form of social networking, people really were writing 1,000 words, now we go to Twitter and we're down to 140 characters. Now we're skipping words altogether and going to visual communication," Ward says.

Those images and that simplicity have made Pinterest a handy way of managing a web experience. "Pinterest is part of a broader trend toward valuing content curators," says Steven Johnson, assistant professor of management information systems at Temple University's Fox School of Business. "Back in the early days, the biggest thing was finding interesting things. Today, the problem is the opposite. We're inundated so we're trying to find information sources we can trust. Once you find someone and you like their style, you want to find a way to follow them and follow what they're presenting to the world as their style. Pinterest is one tool that makes it easy to do that and it's well designed to share and follow other people who are doing that. "

No one's ready to say Pinterest will dethrone Facebook just yet. For one thing, they're different. One's about interests, the other's about people. But if Pinterest finds an audience, other new social networks could do the same. "Certainly a long-term threat for Facebook's success is that people come along with multiple sites like Pinterest that start to reduce the amount of time people spend on Facebook," Johnson says. "I think it would be really hard for Facebook to be the one place all of these other things happen."

Also in this program, Purdue University scientists are working on a way to harness the power of hip-hop bass beats to power medical devices. How do they do that? Look, it's really really complicated so I'm just going to link off to this article that explains it better than I could ever hope to.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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