For the past few months, my email in-box has been littered with invitations to join Pinterest, the latest online social media craze.
I've resisted, my media dance card full with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Hulu and just general Internet cruising. That, plus old-school TV, the iPad, smartphone and life in general, made me hesitant to get involved in something else, even though my foodie friends have been having a great time, sharing luscious food photography, recipes and their favorite cookbooks.
Last week I relented, and a couple of days worth of time disappeared as I fell down the rabbit hole of the electronic bulletin board. Who knew there were so many photos of lasagna floating around the Web?
For the uninitiated — and honestly, most of America is — Pinterest is a social network that allows participants to share photos they like of such things as birthday cakes, bathroom makeovers, vintage posters, beautiful shoes and even strange bedfellows. "Pinners" create categorical bulletin boards and "repin" photos they like to them.
Pinterest has been called Facebook on steroids and digital crack for women, who make up most users. Another pithy social commentator proclaimed it electronic hoarding. I would agree.
First we googled, then we tweeted and now we're pinning.
Pinterest is a natural, new media extension of paper-and-scissors scrapbooking, though it's not your kid's first birthday cake that you're showing the world, rather the birthday cake you'd like him to have. Chances are, your dream cake has been made and styled by someone who works for Martha Stewart Living and then photographed by a New York professional.
The Food Network describes many of its shows as "aspirational," meaning they are meant to inspire viewers to up their game in the kitchen. In reality, most of us don't take the Barefoot Contessa's suggestions any farther than the living room. Somehow, we're satisfied by just seeing her make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. Pinterest — a clever amalgamation of pin and interest — is a lot like that. We see, therefore we wish. We don't necessarily do.
You can argue whether the world needs another place to electronically share culinary hopes and dreams, but know this: Pinterest is the fastest growing social media site in history. It was conceived in 2009 and launched a year ago this month. In January, some 10 million unique visitors signed on to Pinterest to create and scour bulletin boards of coffee mugs, homemade marshmallows, vintage Coca-Cola ads and even vegetable peelers.
Pinterest is most popular among the 18-34 female demographic, who are finding camaraderie there in matters of hearth and home. About 2 million people are on Pinterest daily, an increase of 145 percent since the beginning of the year, according to Mashable.com,
It's a pretty girly place, but is not much different than a woman's lifestyle magazine, except this one has hyper-interactivity. A better Better Homes & Gardens for our time. That said, you'll find cancer support, sports fanaticism and calls for social activism, not just social networking.
Two St. Petersburg sisters-in-law who I know, Danielle Cole and Jenn DePalmo, each a mother of a child under 1, are using Pinterest, in part, to find recipes. The Internet is awash with dinner ideas, but which ones are actually doable and tasty? Rather than jump into the vast sea of ingredients, Danielle says, she'd rather get recommendations from her friends. Jenn is "repinning" photos of slow cooker recipes and then trying some out.
My friend Jennifer Baker, who lives near Fort Myers, likes Pinterest for the variety of unique party appetizers and desserts. The alcohol-infused cupcakes she found were a hit at a recent gathering. I followed her lead, found the photo for Mudslide Cupcakes, which led me to Tracy's Culinary Adventures blog and the recipe. Knowing that Jennifer tried them with success makes me want to, too. I repinned the photo to the Droolworthy Food Photography bulletin board I created.
I am totally "Pinterested."
Embrace the pinsanity
There are a couple of things you need to know if you decide you've got an extra 89 minutes a month — the amount of time the average user spends there according to digital use tracker ComScore — to comb Pinterest for inspiration.
One, you have to be invited to join the site. That seemed so exclusive — until I realized you could just go there (pinterest.com) and request an invitation. If you join the site through your Facebook account, everyone there will be notified and some will start to follow you. Just like Twitter, you need followers, otherwise you're pinning your hopes on no one.
Also, there is a copyright infringement issue that has clouded the site's quick rise on the Web. Pinterest claims that "pinners," not the site, are legally responsible for passing on photos that aren't properly credited to the photographer. This could make users vulnerable to lawsuits, which has not happened yet. However, "fair use" copyright laws could protect them. It's a bit of a bump that Pinterest developers, Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, need to work out to make all users feel comfortable.
The legal issues don't seem to be slowing too many people down for now. I certainly didn't think much about copyright law as I blithely set up my bulletins boards. Besides Droolworthy Food Photography, I corralled photos in Kitchens I Covet, Clever Food Illustration, Types of Lasagna, Favorite Cookbooks, Food I've Made and Kitchen Gadgets. I made sure the photos were credited to the place where I found them.
Then, trying to think of something original, I collected interesting quotes from culinary celebrities that have appeared in staff-written stores in the Taste section since I became editor in 2000. I called this bulletin board Foodies on Food. This took way more than 89 minutes, since I had to hunt for photos to go along with the quotes. Quite a fun way to spend a few hours, though.
Since I write mostly about food, I focused my efforts there, though I see applications for travel, the other half of my beat. It's sort of exciting, too, to be involved in the Next Big Digital Thing.
At least until the Next Next Big Digital Thing comes along.
Information from the Washington Post, BusinessInsider.com and NPR.org was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.