As you probably know, Pinterest has changed dramatically recently. Here is an article from their engineering blog explaining some of it and the reasons for it. In short, every day Pinterest bears less and less resemblance to the site that it was initially when we all fell in love with it. Pinterest has been important enough to me that I wanted to write about it and ask for your thoughts. The ultimate goal is to have Pinterest see this post and consider making changes, so please comment and share if you are so inclined.
As far as I can tell, there are two reasons to use Pinterest. The first is to save everything in an organized way to the boards you create. The second is to find content – new pins, new ideas, new blogs, new stores, new recipes, new decorating styles, new products, etc. The first has not been changed and this post is not meant to address it. It’s the second reason – to find new content – that has fundamentally changed and that I mean to address in this post.
A Brief History of Pinterest’s Evolution
Where does Pinterest get its content? From us, its users. First, users who have blogs and other websites create “original pins,” where we save content from our websites in the hopes that it will drive traffic to our sites (and for me it does – currently, more people find me through Google searches than through Pinterest, although for a long time the opposite was true.) Second, users also create “original pins” from other people’s websites from all over the internet to save the things we love. Third, users “repin” content that comes up in our feeds from our followers or from a search.
In the past and as I’m sure you all remember, users told Pinterest what they wanted to see in their feed by following fellow pinners. For a while, all was good and the site took off and everyone loved it. Those were the good old days.
Then at some point not too long ago, Pinterest took away the ability for users to see their pins in their own feed. I actually want to see my own pins and can’t understand why excluding your own pins wouldn’t be an option rather than mandatory, but in my opinion it wasn’t the end of the world when Pinterest made that change.
Next, at some point Pinterest added the ability to follow interests as well as pinners. Great, I guess. No harm done.
Inevitably, at some other point, Pinterest then started advertising through “promoted pins.” I guess it was a matter of time, and we probably all saw it coming. Still, it was in no way a deal breaker for me. Just like any other website, Pinterest has the ultimate goal of being profitable. Sponsored pins are a perfectly reasonable approach, in my opinion. Although in some ways promoted pins choose content for the user, all advertising does that, and again, I was fine with it.
Then Pinterest added “buyable pins.” They say they are not making money off of these. I really don’t care either way. I understand that these pins are going to come up in my feed the same way advertisements, or promoted pins, do and I’m fine with it. No one is forcing me to click them, after all.
But now, for me it is the final straw. I can accept all of the rest of the changes and still be an ardent fan and daily user of Pinterest. But the new “smart feed” is a disaster and if it is truly the future of Pinterest, I’ll be using Instagram and other sources to find new ideas rather than Pinterest. I didn’t see that coming and it saddens me tremendously.
The New Smart Feed
With the smart feed, Pinterest decided that it would no longer simply show you the pins of the people or businesses you follow in chronological order. Rather, it would choose your content for you.
Wait, what?! This is mind-boggling to me. I have read that the smart feed utilizes the same methods that search engines do to show you the pins that it thinks you will want to see in a stated effort to enhance user experience. There are massive problems with this approach, and in my opinion it is not at all well thought out. After having used it for a while now, here are my problems with it:
It’s paternalistic and controlling. We had a good thing going Pinterest. Why did you have to go and tell me what I want to see? It’s annoying and insulting and so far you’ve gotten it wrong every single time I have logged in. The bottom line is I know what I want to see better than your algorithm ever will. And I pretty effectively told you what I wanted to see when I followed people and boards that I liked. Seriously, being able to control our own individualized content was the draw of Pinterest in the first place and to fundamentally change that user control is misguided.
Go ahead and suggest all the pins you want as far as I’m concerned, and use any algorithm you want to pick them. But for goodness sake, don’t stop also showing us the pins that we specifically told you we want to see. Honestly, this is a no-brainer. It is so obvious that it is mind boggling that it has to pointed out, and I think evidences a clear misunderstanding of user motivation.
But far and away the biggest problem with the new smart feed is that it brings old content to the top of the feed and encourages people to re-pin older pins, sold out items, obsolete ideas, and the like. In the new smart feed, pins that have proven success (among other things) will show up first. Well, proven success means it has already been pinned a lot. Here’s the problem – things that have already been pinned a lot have already been seen a lot. They are also, almost by definition, older. In fact, my new “smart” feed consistently shows me lots of old pins that I have already pinned. And not once, but over and over and over again. Do you guys go to Pinterest to see pins that you have already saved? To see decorating ideas from three years ago? To see what a celebrity wore to the Grammys two years ago? To see outdated paint colors? Neither do I.
Maybe there are people and businesses out there that want to see older content, but it’s hard to imagine. And I know from tracking it in the analytics that every single thing I pin from this website or any other that is “new” is not being shown in my followers’ feeds. But Pinterest assures that as these pins become liked and repinned they will be shown more often, and will therefore “eventually” be seen. This seems completely illogical because if they are not showing the new pin in the first place, how will it be liked and pinned and become popular? But more importantly, who wants to “eventually” see the next new big thing? We want to see it when it is fresh. Sadly, we may now have to go to Instagram for that.
Another of my objections relates to products. I follow a lot of stores and pin from a lot of retailers. Well, the new smart feed also brings old products to the top of my feed (and yours). I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I have clicked on something I like only to be taken to the store to tell me that it is sold out or unavailable. Well I guess of course it is, because the pin is two years old but is nevertheless showing up at the top of my feed. I don’t think I need to explain how ridiculous that is for sellers and buyers alike.
I did an experiment by repinning old products from my own boards that had generated a lot of repins in the past, but that are sold out. I did this for unavailable items to see whether repins of popular items are shown the way older pins of the same item are. Unfortunately, both come up in the smart feed – popular old pins as well as repins of that same item, whether it is still available or not. This makes sense since it seems unlikely that an algorithm could ever really know if the item is still available. It is unfortunate though, and leaves a negative taste in the mouth of the user who sees something they want and then finds out it is not available. I think this will be damaging to Pinterest as well as to people like me who were the original pinners of products long ago when they were available.
Additionally, Pinterest allows pay per click links through ShopStyle, which means spammers have more of an incentive than ever to re-pin popular items regardless of whether they are available. In fact, that’s the only way they can succeed, since their new pins (i.e., newer products) will not be shown at the same rate. So by definition the only product pins you really are going to initially see are old ones that are in many, many cases unavailable. So Pinterest has seemingly just negated a huge portion of retail use. Ouch.
Despite all this, I have gained a record number of followers in the last couple of weeks, since smart feed was fully integrated for me. I have no idea why and would trade it back for the old way if I could. I have no interest in getting new followers who are clicking through to old content that is no longer relevant. If they click through to a product that is unavailable, they get mad at me for “spamming” or pinning it in the first place (when in fact it was Pinterest who decided to show it to them two years late). That’s not good for business. Likewise, it is not good for my business to have users click through to find a blog post that has dated content. In fact, it’s not good for me to even have that pin come up in their feed because they will associate me with older and outdated content. Outside of when users search and discover old pins, this should not happen on Pinterest.
I recently wrote to Pinterest support to ask why my analytics were down so much. This was before I had researched the new smart feed, so I didn’t know the answer yet. Pinterest’s response? “Maybe you should buy ads.” Wow. I guess if that’s the way you want to go Pinterest, that is your right. But I think it’s ill-advised. (In fairness, I have interacted with Pinterest support pretty regularly over the years and have nothing but good things to say other than in this instance and it has nothing to go with the employee and everything to do with company strategy.)
According to some, the new smart feed was to be introduced gradually and was meant to not even be noticed. Well, we noticed. And I think I speak for the majority when I say we hate it. I have not been able to find one positive thing from a single person anywhere online about the new smart feed.
Honestly, I would pay to use Pinterest if it would go back to the old way, where I could control my feed. I know that all good things come to an end, but I am begging you Pinterest, please don’t be one of them. I’ll make due without you If I have to Pinterest. But will you make due without us? I hope you’ll reconsider the smart feed.
CLICK HERE TO ADD A COMMENT
This is probably the only time I will ever ask you for negative comments. I have said good and bad things about Pinterest before on this blog, and many of you have commented with your own thoughts. I am begging you to do so again here. Good or bad – if I have it wrong please tell me. And if I have it right, please tell Pinterest in the comments. If this post gets enough views and interaction, it’s possible someone at Pinterest will read it.
And please pin this (not that anyone will see it- haha!)