Martin Belam Is Pinterest of interest to the info pro?
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By Martin Belam

Abstract

Pinterest - the social network that allows you to create a virtual pinboard of things you've collected from around the world - is rapidly growing in use. What role might it play in the digital world of the information professional?

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All the signs are that there is a new kid on the social media block – visual sharing service Pinterest. The site allows you to "pin" things you are interested in to a virtual pinboard, which can be viewed, shared and commented on. At the moment you can freely browse the site, but to join you have to request an invite. Despite this limitation, the network is reported by Hitwise to have had 11 million unique visitors in December 2011. From a research angle, it is interesting to note that, unlike many other internet social networks, Pinterest skews towards the female demographic – Hitwise claiming 58% of users are women.

Rather like the Tumblr model of reblogging, users can "re-pin" the things they spot that they like onto their own board. And if the service itself wasn't social enough, Pinterest has announced integration with Facebook's new timeline feature, meaning that whatever you pin to your board gets shared with your Facebook friends as well as those using Pinterest.

Pinterest has the seemingly obligatory iPhone app, so that you can keep up with it whilst on the go. It is also interesting to note that they use Tumblr as the platform for their corporate blog.

Just as with all social media tools, from an information professional point of view this could be a new source of social research, or a new place to showcase work.

Jennifer Stein points out that for personal use it can be "a visual bookmarking solution". This might be useful if you are researching design or are involved in a project that requires collecting images – an online scrapbook of your research notes. Bear in mind that everything is public, however.

In terms of publishing, Ellyssa Kroski has made a list of five ways that libraries could use Pinterest, including showcasing staff, making book lists, promoting talks and events, and inviting contributions from users. These ideas could be expanded to cover most public organisations. Using attractive images increases the likelihood of items being "re-pinned", so you definitely need to consider the aesthetics of what you post.

It can also be used to share and research ideas amongst our own community. Miss Pippi, for example, maintains a board called "Library Ideas", which includes suggestion for posters you might put up and features you might add – like this idea of using magnetic letters in a children's library to provide a fun way to encourage literacy. And, of course, some self-depreciating librarian humour.

It will be interesting to see how the site and network develops when it inevitably becomes more fully open. At the moment, from browsing around it, it definitely seems a much more compelling way to share than traditional bookmarking services like Delicious.

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