Goddammit if we haven't heard too much about Pinterest—the word itself is irksome. But for many, that annoyance is doubled by the fact that we don't even really know what it is. So, let's figure that out.
We've already speculated that Pinterest is mostly for the lay-deez. And a cursory glance pretty much confirms this. But it doesn't have to be, does it? Here's everything you need to know about the Internet's most adorable, suddenly-popular social network.
So, yeah, what is Pinterest?
Pinterest calls itself a "virtual pinboard," and unlike most self-descriptions, it's pretty apt. Much like a middle school bulletin board, the site is a "board" of images that you "pin" from other sites you frequent. It's a mix of scrapbook, ornate refrigerator door, diary, and the stuff jangling around in the bottom of a purse.
"Pinning" is easy—there's a bookmarklet you can hit from your browser, which will suck up any image on the site you're current sitting on. Select an image, select the category you want to place it in, and look—you just pinned something.
How is a bunch of images cribbed from other sites a social network?
There are a ton of other people cribbing—"pinning!"—alongside you. You can follow them, a la Facebook, and their recent pins will form a cascade of JPGs every time you open the site. You can even comment too. Like "I love these shoes" or "I'd eat this cake."
Not everyone wants their cake pic shared, however. Pinterest has faced some copyright heat lately, and now gently reminds users to attribute their sources (which nobody does) and gives sites the option to block pinning altogether.
Do people actually do this? They comment about the pictures?
No, not really. For the most part, Pinterest is an echo chamber, where people fling around whatever shiny image piques their interest for as long as it takes to click Pin. Cross-pin communication is minimal, although re-pinning—taking someone else's find—is pervasive.
What should I pin on my pinboards?
Oh ho ho! You've already got the jargon down—yes, you can create separate "pinboards" to sort your pins. I have a pinboard called "Things Involving Frogs," where I "curate" my favorite frog-related images. Most other pinboards boil down to "clothes," "things I wish I could afford to buy for my home," "wedding fantasies," and "impossible recipes."
Ideally, you'd pin something every time you like it, for any reason. A cool car. A fast train. A photo of someone with pretty eyes. It doesn't really matter.
This sounds overwhelming.
It's really not. Pinterest's sweetest virtue is its design. If you ignore the thematic monotony, you've got a really gorgeous website to infinitely scroll through. Each pinned image is scaled and oriented so that everything fits together like a well-played game of Tetris. At the very least, it's colorful and easy on the eyes.
Are there rules?
Unlike the rest of the hellish, toxic landscape of the internet, Pinterest is walled in by candy canes and wan smiles. Mutual respect, not rape jokes, racism, and Wii trolling, is the law of the land. They literally have a list of "Pin Etiquette" within which rule #1 is "Be Nice."
So, yes, Be Nice.
What can you actually do with Pinterest? How is this useful?
On paper, you would peruse Pinterest to find something fun to make for dinner, or sassy new earrings to craft by hand. Or maybe inspiration for redoing your basement.
In practice, it serves as the equivalent of going through a catalog and circling all the shit you want but can't have. The beautiful face you wish was yours, the dress you wish you could fit into, the motorcycle you wish you could afford, the quiche you wish you had the patience and ability to make. The resounding spirit of Pinterest is I love this!, rather than I'll do this! It's aspirational. It's full of dreams. It's entirely materialistic—the offal of cyber shopping spree fantasies, too decadent or distant to ever actually possess. Like raisins in the sun, the multitude of pinboards just accumulate beautiful details that don't coalesce into much of anything.
It could be useful if you're collaborating on something. Maybe you and your wife are going to repaint a room, and you want to share paint colors—share a pinboard. Or maybe a dinner party's menu is still up in the air—share a pinboard to plan the occasion. Pinterest is beautiful, well organized, and perfect for people who think best with pictures. It could be a fabulous tool. Instead, it's the 4chan of conspicuous consumption.
I apologize for the number of times the word "pin" or some variant appeared in this post.
User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette. It appears as if by magic every Friday.
Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock