6 February 2012
Unless you’ve been hiding under a social media rock, you’ve probably come across Pinterest by now, or at least heard of it even if you haven’t checked it out yourself. It’s the latest hot new thing. Well, it’s not that new actually, it was founded in March 2010, but it was not until 2011 that it became ‘one to watch’, exploding from around 1 million to over 4 million users between August and December (1). It’s still ‘invite only’ but you can request an invite through the site, unless you know someone who is already a ‘Pinner’ and will fast track you an invite.
In a nutshell, Pinterest is “an online pinboard” to “organise and share the things you love” (2). It’s a bit like a bookmarking site, but instead of bookmarking URLs you can bookmark and organise images that you find interesting or inspiring, which you ‘pin’ to so called ‘boards’. You can create as many boards as you like, for any imaginable topic, and file them in one of the Pinterest categories, such as ‘Architecture’ or ‘Travel and Places’. The social aspect of it comes through being able to follow people and the things they pin, and being able to ‘like’ anything in your stream that catches your eye or ‘re-pin’ it to your own boards. You can of course also leave comments, and you can link to other Pinterest users in comments and pin or re-pin descriptions by mentioning them via @ + their name.
I first came across Pinterest through the German design and lifestyle blogs I started following when we moved to Berlin last August. A large proportion of Pinterest’s users seem to be women, though the demographics are slowly changing as more people come on board (no pun intended), and popular board topics include DIY & craft ideas, food and recipes, or inspiration for weddings and interior decoration. But, being the museum geek that I am, the first thing I did was of course to do a search for any museums using Pinterest.
This was easier said than done, as the site’s search function is not great. When I started writing this article a couple of days ago, a search for ‘museum’ under ‘people’ returned just two results, only one of them being an actual museum. I’ve just repeated the search, and again only two results, both actual museums this time, but neither of them the one from my initial search. But, as with other social networks, you can see who people follow and who follows them, and as museums tend to follow other museums, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt from one museum to another, which to date has resulted in just over 30 museums, most of them from the USA. Not bad for a start, and I’m sure there’s more. To save other people interested in tracking down museums having to jump through the same hoops, I’ve saved them all in a Google spreadsheet (if you discover any more, please let me know and I’ll edit the list - many thanks to those of you who have already sent me suggestions).
Several of the museums I have discovered on Pinterest link almost exclusively to their own content, either directly via their website, or e.g. via photos on their Flickr accounts. However, this is slightly problematic in that Pinterest’s etiquette discourages self promotion: “Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.” (3) It might therefore be best for museums to curate a mixture of boards and not just ones displaying their own content.
An issue that goes beyond mere etiquette, which is hotly being discussed in Germany right now, is the question of copyright. When you pin an image on to your Pinterest board, it usually links back to the original source, which is also carried over if the image gets re-pinned, and additionally you can add a credit in the image’s description. Generally, linking to content on others sites does not infringe copyright and you cannot be held liable, with some exceptions, but as Thomas Schwenke explains in his article (4) “Pinterest und die rechtlichen Grenzen beim Teilen und Verlinken" (Engl: Pinterest and the legal boundaries in sharing and linking), the issue with Pinterest is that when you pin an image, Pinterest makes a copy of it, and copied material requires the consent of the copyright holder, regardless of whether you’ve credited your source and linked to the original content. So, technically, if someone is unhappy that you’ve shared images from their site on Pinterest, you could face being sent a liability notice and fined. Schwenke has some advice on how to play it safe, e.g. only pinning content where you are sure the the owner doesn’t mind, or always including links to the original source, which doesn’t relieve you from liability, but lowers the risk that someone might get upset with you.
Where museums are concerned, this could be an issue in that many museums have images on their sites where not just the images themselves are copyrighted, but often also portray copyrighted collections, e.g. artwork. If museums want to embrace Pinterest, they can include a ‘Follow Button' on their website. This makes it easier to find them, especially considering the afore mentioned problems with Pinterest's search, and signals that they are likely to be supportive of pinning since they themselves are users of that network. Even better, they could include 'Pin It' buttons on their website, which would signal that pinning is not just permitted but actively encouraged.
I will look at some specific examples of how museums are using Pinterest in a follow up post.
[Edit 07/02/2012: Added link to follow up post]
(1) Source: http://mashable.com/2011/12/26/pinterest-beginners-guide/
(2) This description appears on the Pinterest homepage when you are not logged in: http://pinterest.com/
(3) Source: http://pinterest.com/about/etiquette/
(4) Source: http://spreerecht.de/social-media-2/2012-02/pinterest-und-die-rechtlichen-grenzen-beim-teilen-und-verlinken
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