Like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr before it, Pinterest is becoming one of the most talked-about social startups, with the traffic and user base to back up the buzz. The online pinboard allows people to organize and save things they like. Users “pin” objects, photos and other content to their “board,” and are connected with other users based on shared tastes and interests. The company, which has experienced exponential growth in 2011 and early 2012, reflects a shift towards social content curation.
“Just as the first wave of social media has transformed the consumption of information, this next wave of social curation will fundamentally change how users find and interact with content over time,” wrote serial entrepreneur Elad Gil about the trend. He lists Pinterest as the most obvious example of a company that’s succeeding in building structured sets of curated content, and says it’s an evolution from private curation tools like Instapaper.
Launched in 2010, the company is one of the fastest-growing social services in the world. The founders raised a $27 million round of funding in October 2011, and site traffic grew 4000% from June to December 2011. The site has several competitors, including Svpply and Fancy, but remains the leader in traffic and mindshare. Ironically despite the booming traffic, the site still remains in private beta, and new users need an invitation to sign up.
Pinterest reflects a larger trend towards consumers curating content that’s relevant to them. Social magazines like Flipboard and Zite allow users to create their own personalized iPad magazine based on content shared in their social networks; DIY newspaper services like Paper.li let anyone become a publisher by curating relevant articles from their network into a daily publication; and Pinterest and other social bookmarking sites allow users to curate trends, objects and websites into their own personal taste graph.
Personalized magazine app Zite was acquired by CNN in August 2011. “Zite represents the next generation of content discovery and personalized publishing, and CNN wants to help lead in that space,” said KC Estenson, general manager of CNN Digital, in the acquisition announcement. “We think we can advance the industry in a meaningful way that helps content creators expand their businesses while growing the distribution of a product that people already love.” While Zite is an obvious target for the media industry, Pinterest reflects a wider range of interests, and content ranges from recipes to photos to objects.
If the success of curation tools is any indication, consumers are looking to customize and personalize how they consume, curate and share news. Tools like Pinterest are reflective of a larger content curation trend, and media companies can pay attention by partnering with or even acquiring these tools to increase their distribution and increase their engagement with key demographics (users of tools like the new Washington Post Social Reader, a curated news app built on Facebook, are primarily under the age of 35). There are already indications that more companies will tackle the idea of socially-curated news, with tools like Snip.it and Storify getting early buzz.