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Pinterest Wants You To Think Of Them Like A Search Engine, Not A Social Network

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New investment pours in as Pinterest inches closer to making the real world shoppable.

Pinterest is doing all it can to make 2017 the year of visual search. The social discovery platform recently launched Pinterest Lens, a beta product designed to encourage people to point, tap and find inspiration in the real world—you know, like finding recipes from food porn.

Brian Monahan, Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest, reiterated this strategy at SMWLA, when he told attendees that Pinterest is “more of a search engine than a social network.”

The future of Pinterest is visual search

Visual search, in particular, a natural step forward for Pinterest: The platform saw a 40 percent uptick in mobile searches year over year, per Forbes. According to Monahan, 80 percent of Pinterest usage occurs on mobile devices and the Pinterest Lens feature is even built into some Samsung smartphones.

As people take their smartphones with them wherever they go, they are seeking opportunities to capture inspirational ideas from anywhere. Pinterest Lens allows just that, reducing the friction needed to type out searches via a browser.

Owning the taste-space

Owning “taste” and being able to match content to queries regarding taste has been unique to Pinterest apart from other platforms. “Your taste is uniquely your own,” said Monahan. “What your friends like can’t tell you anything about your own taste.” Pinterest can, and using AI and visual search, Pinterest can continue to help people conjure ideas when they simply don’t have the words to describe what they’re looking for. With machine learning, Pinterest can make a fairly good guess at what you might like, but perhaps haven’t yet articulated.

He then shared a few product features that are allowing Pinterest to tap into the “tastegraph” to surface relevant content:

  • Instant Ideas: When a pinner explores content in the platform, Pinterest’s machine learning algorithm is able to serve up relevant, yet different, content to give users a passive search experience. If a pinner is looking up a margherita pizza recipe, Pinterest will know to serve up other types of pizzas, not just the one that was being searched.
  • Pinterest Flashlight: Pinterest has also rolled out a cropping tool that allows users to zero in on pieces of an image anywhere in the web. If a user is browsing through lifestyle content, they can zero in on a specific item and pin that one element.
  • Shop the Look: Launched with partners like Curalate and Olapic, Pinterest now allows users to shop specific elements of a piece of content on the platform. This feature ties into Pinterest’s mission to move users from inspiration to action.
  • Pinterest Lens: Of course, Pinterest Lens will play significant role when it comes to using inspiration in the real world to deliver relevant ideas within the Pinterest environment.

Follow the money

In June, Pinterest announced it had raised $150 million at a $12.3 billion valuation, an investment that will go toward future advancements in visual search as well as the company’s global expansion. Pinterest’s valuation has increased 12 percent since its last funding round in April 2015. At the time of the announcement, Pinterest reported 175 million users and an annual revenue of $500 million. Its revenue was $300 million last year and $100 million in 2015.

Looking ahead, Pinterest’s goal is to continue innovating its visual search capabilities to serve better experiences for users and improving relevancy of native ads on the platform—a benefit for consumers and advertisers alike. After all, the natural extension of visual search is visual commerce.

In April, Amazon announced that its new Echo Look device would come equipped with a built-in camera for capturing style selfies, so clearly Pinterest is not alone in its mission to use AI to serve relevant content from objects captured in the real world.

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