Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Welcome to Pinterest!": A Case Study

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to join Pinterest. Until this weekend, I did not have a need to add another social media website to the small but manageable set I currently belong to. Without a need to be met, there was no real reason for me to seek an invitation to join the hottest new social media startup of 2012, so I didn't, despite the fact that many of my friends both on and off social media sites are active users of Pinterest and absolutely love it.

But then I started working on our little Rosebud's registry (still a work in progress!) and all that changed.

It turns out that Babies-R-Us only has three "sort" options for displaying the items you've added to your registry: Product Category, Price: Low to High, and Price: High to Low. The latter two are intended for gift-givers, but the first option should be very useful for the parent creating the registry, to take stock of how many different items have been added to any one category. However, Babies-R-Us has a rather arbitrary way of deciding what products belong in which categories, with random categories that have no real meaning to the consumer, such as "Top Baby Registry Items." I think this category refers to popular items which are very often added to baby registries on the site, but it takes items that should be classified under, say, "Diapering" and moves them to this arbitrary category as a result of their popularity. This grouping is less than useful, and the confusion was beginning to drive me nuts, especially since the entire process of registering for our baby was overwhelming to begin with--but that's perhaps a blog post for another day. Confusion and frustration characterized much of my registry experience using the Babies-R-Us interface.

Enter Pinterest.

I realized what I needed was a place to sort through the visuals of each product I added, categorize them in ways that were meaningful to me, see where there was redundancy and also where there were gaps, and work from there. And the main reason Pinterest appealed to me for this functionality is the fact that each image you "pin" on a board on the site is linked back to its source page--meaning, I could organize the visual version of Rosebud's registry on Pinterest while still linking back to the products on the Babies-R-Us website, where my actual registry is housed. Without being a Pinterest user myself, though, this system/solution was only theoretical for me. I was unsure it would work this way in practice. But it was a strong enough reason to seek out an invitation to join the site, and so I did.


I've decided to keep a log of my impressions of Pinterest as I get the hang of using it. More specifically, I plan to describe what I do on the site, analyze why I do it, and articulate the significance of my actions and their causes. This will inevitably include a critical analysis of the site itself, identifying where the functionality succeeds and where it falls short, when considering my specific goals for using the site. This exercise is actually something my research partner, Teresa, and I have our students do in a course we co-designed last year called Rhetoric & Social Media. Our research (and the course) focuses largely on that other popular social media site, Facebook, however our deeper interest is not so much the site itself, but the thought processes of users as they encounter information on the site, and the effects of the site's functionality (much of which is shared across the social web) on how users relate to the information they encounter.

As I started messing around on Pinterest last night, I found myself reflecting analytically on how I was navigating the site to achieve my goals, and I realized it is providing me with the perfect case study to share here on my blog. I think keeping this log will be good practice for me, since we have our students do this work regularly, and having an opportunity to practice the skill of articulating description-analysis-significance for myself will improve how I teach it to my students.

A final question that you may be asking yourself is: what's the point? Why bother describing, analyzing and articulating the significance of my actions in relation to information? What is to be gained by developing and practicing this skill? (In other words, why have Teresa and I decided to focus the bulk of our research energies on this kind of work?)

The answer, in a word, is meta-literacy.

As for what that word means exactly, at least in my research with Teresa...I'm afraid this post is already too long, and I haven't even started sharing about my first impressions of Pinterest yet! I'm hoping its meaning will become clear over time, and since I believe it plays a role not only in my research but also in other parts of my life (for example, it's playing a role right now in my decision to post here on my blog about my Pinterest user experience), I can promise the concept will be fleshed out in future posts.

To start things out, I will say that the narrative I began this post with is what rhetoricians would refer to as my purpose (as well as my context) for choosing to join Pinterest, where my purpose and context are just two parts of what we'd call my rhetorical situation on the site. (Other parts include my attitude, background, audience, and more, all of which will also affect my actions on the site). A person's purpose in relation to participating on a website like Pinterest (or Facebook) can (and almost always does) change and evolve over time as a result of many factors. But at the outset, visually organizing our little Rosebud's registry was (and still is) my primary purpose for joining Pinterest, and helps define my rhetorical situation at the outset.

I'll stop here for tonight. In my next post in this series, I'll share the process of actually creating my Pinterest account--and yes, there were significant rhetorical decisions I had to make even at that early juncture!

Stay tuned.

(And if you managed to read this far, you've just received a fair taste of what my library-related research is like...can you blame me for loving my job?)

Inspiration board (for BYW)
Image courtesy of Flickr user Daily Suze courtesy of a CC license


  1. I used to work at Babies R US, and I swore never, ever to register at one after that experience. So you chose wisely.

    1. I'm technically still registered at Babies-R-Us, since I think I'm having a local shower here in Scranton and it's the go-to place around here for baby stuff, so I want it to be convenient for gift-givers. That being said, with one exception coming up soon (my mother in law is coming to visit and would like to go look at some baby stuff together--it'll be more about me and her and less about the store though, so I don't mind that trip), I am never going to step foot in the store again if I can help it.