February 21, 2017

Pinterest and the visual web

Once upon a time, people browsed the world wide web through human-curated directories, like this one:

Gorgeous 😍

As more websites were made, algorithmic search became a necessity. Yahoo and others began indexing the web, using the text on the page to infer relevancy to the user’s query. In the late 90’s, Google introduced PageRank, an innovation that dramatically improved search results by qualifying page quality based on the reputation and number of sites linking to it. Now Google represents ~80% of search traffic worldwide.

But Google and traditional search engines still heavily rely on text and links to deliver quality results. What if there are no text or links?

The Rise of Visuals

We’re seeing an explosion of images, GIFs, and videos created online. A picture says a thousand words, but a picture has no words. There’s so much information hidden inside of every visual that’s not captured by traditional search engines.

More people are consuming visuals and in some cases, bypassing traditional text experiences entirely.

I recently asked a college student, “What was the last product you purchased?”

He responded, “I recently purchased a new iPhone and needed a case. So, I went to YouTube and searched for ‘best iPhone case’.”

Others might default to Amazon, Google, or a review site to read about the product. This teen wanted to see it.

Pinteresting, right?

Pinterest is well-positioned for the visual web, capturing a wealth of data, fueled by its 150M+ monthly users. As the community’s grown since its launch in 2010, its become very good at understanding photos to help its users find a “sleek red handbag”. Just last week, Pinterest introduced its new visual search feature, Lens. I’ll let this GIF do the talking:

Simply snap a photo of something and Pinterest will tell you what it is. The results are impressive, unlocking a whole new understanding of things previously not (or poorly) indexed online.

This gets particularly pinteresting in a future where more of our world is captured through photos and video, when we capture our daily interactions and see the world through augmented reality. The company that can index, categorize, and surface this information best, may become the next Google.

…or maybe Google will buy the next Google. 😉

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