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Pinterest takes on social, e-commerce worlds

Move over Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There's a new social site stealing some of your buzz: Pinterest, a social photo-sharing site that allows users to create and share collections of images. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., the pinboard-styled service is focused on connecting people through the things they find interesting.

The images pinned on the Pinterest homepage continually change, but on one visit to the site on Wednesday, it included images of the elements of various outfits; sayings about God; a recipe for a steak dinner; a chart to calculate your healthy weight; how-to exercises for flat abs; and how to make bracelets out of popsicle sticks.

The site basically is a collection of collections, which offers an interesting look into the worlds of fashion, travel, cooking and religion, as much as it offers a view of the people who are sharing their passions.

Users can comment on what's been posted and can re-pin items and follow each other. Membership on the site is still by invitation only, though people can request to be invited.

"Pinterest is proof that you don't need a company the size of Google to generate interest and activity for a new social network," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis. "It's basically a reinvention of an older idea of sharing links to things we like. The difference between Pinterest and its predecessors -- Reddit, Del.ici.ous, Digg and others -- it seems, is purely visual.... I think its main driving force is its innate nature as a referral generation engine."

And when it comes to referrals, he thinks Pinterest has "eclipsed" other social sites like Google+ and LinkedIn.

And that could be an interesting twist, not only for the social networking world, but for the e-commerce world, too.

"Pinterest adds an interesting element to the social networking mix," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Users are mostly grabbing images from Web pages. These images have URLs that track back to the source page, so if I pin a delightfully kicky new pair of shoes I just bought, people following me can see where I bought them -- or at least where the picture of the shoes came from."

And if users re-pin the picture to their own collection, it helps push the shoes out to a wider audience of people also interested in fashion and shopping.

"Pinterest could be the next wave of both social networking and e-commerce," said Olds. "One of the biggest drivers of the Internet is, not surprisingly, shopping and finding new and cool products to buy. Pinterest helps people do that, plus it lets them show others how they're using items and how they've combined them in creative ways."

While not backed up by analyst stats, it's widely reported that Pinterest's user base is largely made up of women. And Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said that's not a problem for the site.

"It means they have a defined customer and if you have a defined customer, you can more easily meet his, or in this case, her, needs," he added. "If you know your customer, your ads by default are better targeted, where you spend your development budget is more focused, and you have a stronger ability to assure loyalty."

In terms of e-commerce, knowing that the site is catering largely to women is another plus.

"It potentially connects women more tightly to products and could become a vastly better way to tie women to brands," said Enderle. "The same could be done to men or any other segmented group using this model. All you'd need is a defined set of common interests."

So, can Pinterest maintain its momentum in user growth and online excitement?

Part of that will depend on whether or not major social players like Facebook and Google+ take note of Pinterest's success and incorporate some of the site's ideas and features into their own sites.

Because Pinterest is a start-up, it doesn't have the globally known Google name or its incredibly deep pockets. That means Google's social network, Google+, can take more time to get established and start bringing in money. Pinterest may not have that luxury.

However, Olds is hopeful.

"I think Pinterest might have a novel enough idea to last for quite a while," he said. "They've captured a huge number of users -- about a third of Twitter's volume, which is a damned big number and probably enough to give them critical mass. Providing they have understanding financial backers, the site can continue to grow and develop while management looks for a business model."


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