(Updated to reflect comment from StumbleUpon)
I feel like I always have to remind people that social media is still in its growing phase. If it were a child, it would still be in elementary school. And Pinterest, the newest of the popular social media websites, would still be in pre-school.
The social photo sharing website, which allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections, in only around two-and-a-half-years old, having launched in March of 2010. But, despite its relatively young age when compared to Facebook or Twitter, or maybe because of it, I have begun to notice that many websites, including some really successful and established ones, have tried to adopt Pinterest’s style, one way or another.
Trying to copy the cool, new kid in town may be a good short-term strategy, but how will it play out in the long run?
The “Pinterest-like” phenomenon
There have been a number of startups and services that have come out recently that have been compared to Pinterest.
"Pinterest lets people collect non-fleeting images and put in collections that others can see," said Ramy Adeeb, CEO and founder of Snip.it, said in an interview with VatorNews in July. "What Snip.it wants to do is to do the same thing for brain candy."
In September, Newzstand debuted its NewzSocial App, which is a news aggregator that allows its users to create niche channels and share them with their friends on social networks. Like Pinterest, users create their own channels, which can be about anything they want them to be. The channels can even be extremely specific. A channel can be created with stories only about baseball, only about the Yankees, or only about Derek Jeter.
The same month saw the release of Wanderful, a Pinterest for local papers, with platform that displays advertisements in a engaging and social way, and which its CEO says will look like Pinterest.
Then there is The Fancy, which VatorNews reporter Faith Merino called “essentially a reconfigured Pinterest with a stronger e-commerce foundation.”
Users can upload and share images of cool items, and “fancy” those items that they want. It is different from Pinterest in that its users’ have the ability to purchase items directly from the site.
The Fancy originally got its start as Thing Daemon in 2010, when CEO and co-founder Joe Einhorn started the company as a database of things. In February 2012, the company honed in on e-commerce and launched the Fancy engine.
Even some bigger, more established websites have either designed themselves to look like Pinterest, or added a service that does something similar.
In September, discovery engine StumbleUpon launched its latest redesign, which copied, you guessed it, Pinterest.
The new StumbleUpon offered new features, such as Activity, which allowed users to see pages recommended by StumbleUpon experts, and StumbleUpon Lists, a feature which allowed users to put their Likes into personalized collections that they can then share with friends.
This is a screengrab of what StumbleUpon’s homepage looks like now:
In October, Facebook added a new feature called Collections, where, if users have Liked a certain company, let’s say Pottery Barn, images of products will show up on their news feed. If they click on the product and they want it, they can add it their wishlist by "liking", "collecting" or "wanting" it.
Once the item has been collected there will be a button on the picture taking them an external website, in this case PotteryBarn.com, to purchase the item.
Last month, eBay redesigned its website to look like Pinterest as well, allowing its users to curate items and put them into a personalized homepage feed.
Will copying Pinterest work?
I think you have to take that on a case-by-case basis. Is the service that is copying the format new? Is it established? How big is it?
For services like NewZSocial and The Fancy, I don’t think it will hurt them too much, as neither of them seem popular enough at this point to scare away their userbase.
The Fancy originally got its start as Thing Daemon in 2010, when CEO and co-founder Joe Einhorn started the company as a database of things. In February 2012, the company honed in on e-commerce and launched the Fancy engine. The company raised $26 million in equity financing in October.
For Facebook and eBay, I do not see it hurting them either.
In the case of Facebook, that is because it is simply adding the Pinterest-like feature as an add on, not redesigning the entire website around it. The service is only in a test right now, but seems to have been successful enough that Facebook is looking to add it to its mobile app.
While eBay overhaul its entire look to be more like Pinterest, the e-commerce giant is so entrenched at this point that even a redesign like this would stop many people from visiting the website.
The websites that have to worry about overhauling like this are those like StumbleUpon, who were popular enough to have a large userbase but not so big that it could survive a lot of people leaving the site.
In April of 2011, StumbleUpon was seeing over one billion stumbles every month, 200 million more stumbles than was reported the service tracking just a month before.
Since then, StumbleUpon has had its second rebranding effort in less than a year; it previously launched channels in December, which eventually fell flat and led to the stepping down of its long-time CEO Garrett Camp in May. Camp became chairman of the board at StumbleUpon after resigning.
A recent report by Shareholic found that StumbleUpon’s share of traffic sent to publisher websites has declined by 53% since July, the report said, and it is now trailing Twitter by 0.22%.
While it would seem as though it was StumbleUpon’s latest effort to remaking itself that led to the decline in traffic, a move that we have seen before, Shopaholic says that that might not be the whole story.
“Any time you’re considering traffic from StumbleUpon, though, you should remember that everything is wrapped in an iFrame, so people may be clicking through to read your articles, but they may not be clicking through directly to your site,” it says in the report.
“Therefore those pageviews aren’t recorded as referral traffic. As with all content creation, remember that the best-in-class, most compelling content truly wins."
Mike Mayzel, Director of Communications at StumbleUpon, tells VatorNews that the company does not agree with the Shareaholic data.
"Our internal data shows that since July the number of Stumbles and referral traffic have increased over that time frame. We have connected with Shareaholic to better understand their methodology. Moving forward, we believe our redesigned web site and mobile apps will continue to deliver the best content discovery experience on the Web for our community and our partners," Mayzel said.
If Shareholic's data is correct, it would seem that StumbleUpon’s users are not reacting well to it trying to be something that it is not.
The lesson from Digg
If this sound familiar to you at all, its because it happened to another popular website that tried to change itself into something it wasn’t, and paid the ultimate price.
Digg was one of the first and most popular social media websites, it is important to note that it was not a social network as we know them now to be. It was not individualized, with personal pages, which is what most people would think of when it comes to social networking.
The site, founded in 2004 by Kevin Rose, allowed users to submit news stories in different categories, such as Technology, Science, World & Business, Videos, Entertainment and Gaming. Other users would then vote the story up or down, either “digging” or “burying” the story.
In 2010, it attempted a redesign called Digg v4, which removed several of Digg’s core features, including bury, favorites, friend submissions, upcoming pages, subcategories, videos and history search. It also contained numerous bugs and glitches, as well as an increased number of advertisements on the homepage.
The response from Digg users was dramatic. Not only was August 30, only five days after the redesign, declared by users to be "quit Digg day," but the site also saw traffic fall heavily in September, dropping around 34%, from 16 million monthly users to around 6 million, by the end of the month.
The website was never able to recover and in July, the site was sold off, piece by piece, to different outlets, for around $16 million.
Drew Curtis, founder and CEO of Fark, a popular news aggregator, told me in July that the redesign, essentially, pushed people too far.
“They destroyed the existing site and replaced it with a completely different version, while insisting it was the same thing,” Curtis told me.
“Digg committed suicide.”
According to Curtis, people at the company were against the total redesign of the site, and some of them even left in protest.
Though no names were mentioned, it should be noted that CEO Jay Adelson did leave the company only a few months before, in April 2010, with rumors that he had disagreed with the company board over what the redesign would look like.
Curtis told me that the ultimate lesson for other companies, such as Facebook and eBay, is, “respect your audience.”
Instead of overreaching by trying to target Twitter, says Curtis, Digg should have kept doing what they were good at and they may have continued to grow, like Reddit did. Instead they were a top 10 website for years, and then suddenly they fell off.
Meanwhile, the real Pinterest is still growing every month.
In May, Pinterest topped Twitter and Bing in referrals, then, in June, Pinterest had more referral traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, Bing and Google combined. Pinterest finally overtook Yahoo organic traffic in August, making it the fourth largest traffic source in the world.
Pinterest has now seen its referral traffic increase for seven straight months, and a September study from Pew Internet & American Life Project found that found that 12% out of 1000 people said they use Pinterest, and of those, the vast majority were women. A full 19% of online women are now on Pinterest.
Given those numbers its not a surprise that others would want to copy that success. But what websites and app have to ask themselves is whether or not it is the right fit for them.
(Image source: http://www.newshinyobject.com)