There are now nearly one billion "Place Pins" on Pinterest, the company said in an email Monday. And with that announcement, Pinterest moves one step closer to becoming a true search engine alternative to Google.
Now, Pinterest's Place Pins aren't going to replace Google Maps anytime soon—or ever. But for users that would rather graze than pinpoint one exact spot, Place Pins are great for browsing various locales around the globe.
Place Pins are enhanced Pinterest images, better known as “pins,” with the addition of location metadata. Powered by Foursquare, you can use Place Pins to give a pin a physical address that you and other users can find on a map. Pinboards can collect arbitrary travel hotspots, like this board of world beaches, along with their physical locations recorded on a map.
A Very Pinteresting Search Dilemma
Pinterest's visual search engine is powered by millions of individuals that curate and organize its content according to what users deem most relevant. But with billions of pins, that’s a ton of data—and users simply can’t organize all of it alone.
Place Pins are just one of the ways Pinterest is working on surfacing that data—by tying topic-specific metadata to various pins to make them show up in more relevant searches. Thanks to Rich Pins, which appear as normal pins with auto-generated captions, Pinterest can categorize those pins into verticals for movies, recipes, articles, products and places.
Before Pinterest and other Visual Web networks came along, we generally thought of the Web as a place where text begot text—you input some text, press search, and get a bunch of relevant results, also in text form. On Pinterest, however, a text-based search leads to relevant image results—without losing any of that context in the transfer.
So far, Pinterest is trying to improve search by going vertical and providing more metadata for different types of pins, including locations. That way—ideally—searching for pins about backpacking through Europe won’t result in a bunch of European-made backpacks.
You might be thinking, "So what? Google has a visual search engine." But what makes Pinterest unique is that it's not just a visual search engine; it’s a user-curated one. That means to guarantee accurate search results, Pinterest needs to nudge users into actually using Rich Pins.
A Scheme To Get Rich Pins Quick
Pinterest’s Place Pins milestone is proof that users are adopting the Rich Pin feature in droves. Keep in mind, however, Place Pins are only five months old; Foursquare and Pinterest announced the partnership in late November 2013.
The month before Place Pins was revealed, Pinterest filed a trademark infringement suit against PinTrips, a Pinterest clone built specifically for flight search. The suit was notable because Pinterest revealed in the legal complaint just how many pinners use Pinterest for travel:
“Pinterest users have posted more than 660 million PINS in Pinterest’s ‘Travel’ category to date. Many people use Pinterest as a travel-planning tool.”
That number is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s assumed the ‘Travel’ category was built up over the course of Pinterest's five-year existence. Meanwhile, Place Pins have hit the one billion mark in fewer than five months of existence.
We also have some data about Article Pins, another kind of Rich Pin. Last fall, the company said five million of its daily pins included article metadata. However, Place Pins are opt-in, while article metadata attaches itself automatically when a user pins from a news site.
If one thing is certain, it’s that Pinterest is not here to compete against Google. Pinterest's search weaknesses are Google's strengths, and likewise, what Google is bad at doing Pinterest is really, really good at. As co-founder Evan Sharp told ReadWrite:
“People don’t think about searching 'living room inspiration' on Google. They literally don’t do that because the results don’t work, and they become accustomed to not searching that. But on Pinterest that can be a really fruitful and valuable thing to search.”
In its exploration of visual search, Pinterest is attempting to meet its userbases’ unique set of requirements by creating a search engine that solves different problems—or at least solves them differently. So Pinterest may never reach Google's level of popularity, but when it comes to exploring the world through search, Pinterest's plan is looking awfully good.
Photo by Kellee Gunderson