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Take an interest in Pinterest

By Stephanie Choporis
On March 5, 2012

Rainbow-speckled, cake batter Rice Krispies treats. A hot-pink-sequined electric kitchen mixer. A tiny dog happily sipping an iced Starbucks coffee. These are just some of the photos one can find when browsing the new online phenomenon, Pinterest.

24-year-old Janelle Vreeland of Old Town has something rather different on her Pinterest account: a black-and-white collage of silent film and classic Hollywood's leading ladies. Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall. The individual frames display close-ups of every actress. But not their entire faces, mainly their eyebrows. Each dark arch perfectly sculpted and sitting above mascara-decorated eyes.

Vreeland, who is "obsessed" with this era of film after watching Red Skelton and Shirley Temple movies with her grandparents, is fascinated by the photos, specifically how such a simple and unnoticed feature made the women so distinct. Through Pinterest, she is not only able to share this picture with fellow enthusiasts, but also her love for early cinema. She is not the only one mesmerized by the eyebrows. They have already been re-posted about 10 times.

Pinterest is a widely growing social media site that connects users based on their interests. With a virtual pinboard, members can display or "pin" images and videos they find on the web or their computers via a "Pin It" button installed on one's Internet browser. Users may create multiple boards to organize their favorite recipes, home decorating plans, dream wedding ideas or anything else imaginable. And similar to Facebook, others can in turn generate comments, "like" or "repin" any content they see.

The concept behind the site stemmed from 29-year-old founder Ben Silbermann's childhood hobby of entomology. "I collected insects maniacally," he told USA Today. Always wanting to partake in Internet start-ups, such as Reddit and Twitter, the West Des Moines native soon realized that many share his passion for collecting, whether it is stamps or baseball cards. Thus, a site for showcasing such items was born.

When Pinterest first launched in March, 2010, it was not an instant sensation. "It was like stealth without us trying to be stealth," Silbermann said.

But that is no longer the case.

Within the past several months, Pinterest has become an Internet craze. In mid-December, Experian Hitwise, a site for measuring online consumer behavior, reported that Pinterest received close to 11 million visits, which was 40 times the number of visits received in a single week just six months earlier. And comScore, Inc. (an Internet marketing research company) indicated that the virtual pinboard hit the 10 million visitor mark faster than any other standalone website, growing to 11.7 million unique monthly visitors at the beginning of February.

DePaul University's assistant professor of new media and technology Paul Booth thinks Pinterest has reached the "magic point" and is on its way to becoming "valuable" to everyone. Not only does he view it as a form of sharing information and "actual things" (images and video), but he also sees it as a new way of highlighting the "best" material on the Internet. "There's so much info out there, it's getting impossible to find stuff," he said. "Pinterest, and other sites like it, allow us to connect with others and find interesting things that we wouldn't normally find by ourselves."

Of the near 12 million members, the start-up and technology news blog TechCrunch found that the majority consists of upper income American women ranging from 18 to 34 years of age. Specifically, Silbermann added that Pinterest first caught on among females in the Midwest. While the regional popularity possibly correlates with Silbermann's Midwestern roots, Booth thinks the site is currently more popular with women since sharing information is "something that's generally a more feminine style of communication," he said.

And Vreeland is an example of this demographic.

So is University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign freshman Samantha Pucci, who just created an account a few weeks ago and already has 19 pinboards. "For the most part, I use Pinterest to get new ideas for hairstyles, painting my nails and different food ideas," she said.

Along with her posted images of neon green Frankenstein nails and long, flowing, blonde curls, she finds one photo particularly meaningful: a dog named Oogy with a missing left ear and partially crushed jaw bone. Only four months old and 35 pounds, Oogy was tied to a stake and used as bait for a Pit Bull.

"I feel really strong about dog fights," Pucci said. "I don't like them nor the people that participate in them. This dog is so cute, and I am very happy she didn't die."

Taking a lighter approach, DePaul senior and recent user Debra Lipson referred to Pinterest as "a wonderful waste of time," yet beneficial for organizing items she finds online, such as clothes, accessories or workout routines. As "a huge fashion person," her favorite pinned image is a pair of Vanessa Mooney blue, cream and magenta Fly Girl earrings with beaded fringe. And while Lipson is not currently obsessed with the site, she said several of her friends have already succumbed, as one continues to pin cakes, dresses and venues for her future wedding.

But not everyone has joined the Pinterest phenomenon just yet. Illinois Institute of Technology senior Alicia Perez had not heard of the site at first, but considered becoming a member after briefly perusing the image-laden home page.

"It looks interesting," she said. "If enough of my favorite authors or TV shows use the site, it would be an incentive to create an account."

And despite Booth's prediction that male users would eventually catch up to the number of female users, 21-year-old Joshua Carrera of the Riis Park area simply described the site as "Facebook minus the status updates." In fact, he cannot see many men giving much effort to pinning photos. "Unless it becomes the next Facebook or Twitter," he said.

While Pinterest has yet to open to the general public, being only currently available to those requesting an invitation code or invited by a present member, Pucci thinks the virtual pinboard has potential to compete with Facebook but will not replace the mammoth network.

Booth somewhat disagrees. Even though he thinks the site will "certainly last," he does not believe it will reach such a high status. "I think it [Pinterest] will continue to grow for a few years," he said. "But eventually, people will grow tired and move on to the next ‘new' thing. That's the way we've seen social media move throughout its history, Facebook being one of the few exceptions."

As for Vreeland, she is simply enjoying her Pinterest boards, sometimes spending several hours searching for new photos of Mary Pickford or scenes from "The Searchers" and "The Thin Man" to add. "I guess you could say I have my moments of addiction," she said.

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