The Pinterestization of the Web

The rise of Pinterest is now well-documented (especially in this great Mashable piece). Not only did the company’s valuation balloon from $40m to $200m to $1.5b in about a year’s time, but the influence of Pinterest’s design interface cannot be emphasized enough. A few months ago, I asked the following question on Quora: “What websites strongly resemble Pinterest’s design?” The depth of answers and results is astonishing, worth a click if you have time. In retrospect, there’s a simple reason we’re seeing this interface copied again and again, and why sites like Fab.com (among others) are shifting away from a stream of text to a stream of images.

I’ve brought up this trend in conversation often, but it was only until my friend (and PublikDemand co-founder) Jim England put a stake in the ground that it hit home: “The Pinterest layout is an important inflection point in the design history of the web and the largest since the Facebook newsfeed.” The Facebook newsfeed signaled a shift to algorithmic discovery, calibrated by social and interest signals, from direct search. In other words, a newsfeed constructed with the right mix and weight of input variables created a highly relevant signal for users to discover new people, places, and things. And, I believe that newsfeed was influenced by Twitter, in a way, though I’m not entirely sure, as it’s a bit before my time. (If you have thoughts on that, please share!) Thereafter, a site like Quora is a great example of a strong newsfeed from the Facebook world, though one that now could be less appealing for new users given the trend toward a feed of images, or tiles.

This raises two interesting questions. One, how does this affect mobile layouts and interactions for social/consumer products (including mobile commerce), especially after the success of the Instagram image feed? Two, what other popular feeds today that are based heavily on text could be disrupted by feeds based on images? For instance, should ESPN redesign their site and apps to look like Pinterest? What about Yahoo!? While it may not engender admiration from the tech crowd, there seems to be a strong incentive for various sites with large audiences to seriously consider these types of new, tiled image-based interfaces — it may in fact make the web even easier to digest for many users, especially in the context of mobile phones and tablets.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus