If you're not as old or older than I am, in my 50s, you might not believe this. But I swear there was a time when clothing manufacturers put their brand on the inside of clothes, when trademarked logos and mottoes and pictures were reserved for posters or magazine ads, not something you wore.
Now we pay extra for a t-shirt with the Nike logo on it and all that it says about the wearer, or to be a walking placard for a video game or a TV show or a sports franchise.
Enter Pinterest, an Internet scrapbooking site that has gone from unknown to social-media darling in a span of weeks. Time magazine named Pinterest.com one of the top five social-media sites for 2011, and statistics show it drives more referral traffic on the Web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn combined.
Where Facebook is about people, Pinterest is about things. Where Facebook is text, maybe with images, Pinterest is about images, maybe with text. Where Facebook is about sharing with friends, Pinterest is about sharing with the world.
Put together your virtual pinboards by collecting images that inspire you, make you laugh, show a dish you'd like to make or that you enjoyed at a restaurant, or show clothes, cars, art, or home décor you like. If you find an image you like on Pinterest, you might re-pin it as your own; you might also click deeper and find that you like the entire pinboard that the image was on, and choose to follow it, which means it will appear on your wall. Or you might even choose to follow not only that pinboard but all the pinboards by that Pinterest user, in which case you follow him or her.
When you collect, or curate, the images on your pinboards, soon an overall image appears: you, as you want the world to see you. The world. There is no privacy here. You can hide your profile from search engines, but that's about it. If someone chooses to follow your pinboards, there's no way to stop him or her.
Who needs t-shirts? Now you can assemble your style, your brand, right here. If you are really good at it, you can become a Pinterest superstar, such as the 21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users featured on Mashable.com a few weeks ago, and you might even be profiled in your local online news magazine, as was Seattle graphic designer Chad Syme, who as of Feb. 13 had 141,923 people following every single thing he pins.
Unsurprisingly, much of Pinterest's content involves shopping. See a cool pair of shoes you like, or a nice patio set, or even a car you lust after, and pin it. The membership at this point skews almost exclusively to women—98 percent of Pinterest's 500,000-plus Facebook fans are women—although that is likely to change as the site grows.
It appears, though, that Pinterest aims to be primarily a women's site; in its Help section, in the description of what the site is about, it says, “People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and share their favorite recipes.” Not, by contrast, plan a tour of great baseball stadiums, compare the legs on today's actresses, or share their favorite microbrews. Although you could do that.
The site's demographics also skew heavily toward the Midwest, where it first took off. The founder, 29-year-old Ben Silbermann, is originally from Des Moines, Iowa, although the company is based in Palo Alto, Calif. The geographical bias, too, is likely to disappear as the site takes off like a rocket.
And skyrocketing it is. Although Pinterest has been lurking in the background since its launch in March 2010, it seemed to reach a critical mass of users just three months ago. The site now has more than 10 million registered users, in spite of the fact that registration is by invitation only. The Web analytics firm comScore reported that Pinterest was visited by more than 11.7 million unique users last month, which makes it the fastest site in Internet history to break the 10-million-unique-user mark.
Although you need an invitation, it's not hard to get one. Simply visit Pinterest.com and request one, and within a day or two you should receive an email with a link. You must have a Facebook or Twitter account to register. There are several tutorials and helpful pieces on the web on how to use Pinterest; one of the better ones is this beginner's guide at sortacrunchy.com.