Pinterest’s Signal to Noise Problem

When my mom is an early adopter of something, I tend to think it’s important. She’s been raving about Pinterest for many months now and as of this writing has pinned 1,990 items on the site. (Here she is, if you’re curious). My sister and a few other friends – mostly women – are also in love with Pinterest. It’s giving them a spot to record and remember the creativity of others to inspire more creativity in their own lives, which I think is awesome.

But my sister tells me that Pinterest has a problem, and it seems to me that it’s going to be a fairly tough one to solve. Now that the site is gaining users more quickly, their tastes are diverging just as quickly, severely reducing the relevancy of common pages like Women’s Apparel, which my sister claims is now full of ugly, unfashionable clothes. For a site built on collecting peoples’ tastes, this seems to me to be a major scaling problem.

If they follow their current trajectory, I assume the general topic pages will soon become completely useless. To wit, I visited the Men’s Apparel page today and saw lots of women’s clothing, with no obvious way for me to flag mistakes or remove the “pins” from that category. Even if that easy problem is solved, the signal to noise ratio would continue to drop until the pages are useless.

So how does Pinterest increase relevancy and ensure the highest possible signal to noise ratio for users? Ultimately, I’d think those general interest pages need to become an amalgamation of only your network’s pins in those categories; without some sort of personal algorithmic calculation, it’s tough to see how pages as general as “Books Worth Reading” could be interesting to any single person, though it could be interesting to a group. Pinterest’s user interface doesn’t give users the option to add rich metadata (and I doubt they would), but it seems like that would be what’s required to maximize signal and minimize noise.

Unless I’m missing The Big Picture of Pinterest, it seems that the signal/noise problem is the biggest challenge to their survival.

3 thoughts on “Pinterest’s Signal to Noise Problem

  1. One of the things about Pinterest to keep in mind is that categorization is not, and should not, be universal. How one person views a pin/image may not necessarily match how another person views that same pin/image, and users should not have the ability to flag something as a mistake as to remove a pin from a certain category. A user should not be able to curate someone else’s pins. That’s really not the point.

    In the case of items that probably should be categorized as women’s apparel rather than men’s apparel, or some other “blatant” miscategorization, you can always comment on the pin and suggest another category to that user. It’s possible they accidentally selected the wrong category when creating their board. (I’ve done that.) It can then be up to the user to edit the category if they agree with your suggestion.


    1. I see your point, but those solutions don’t scale or make the data more useful. So from a business perspective, Pinterest has an interest (heh) in creating and curating useful marketing data about its users, making robust metadata really important.


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