Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

Pinterest: Attack of the Tumblr Clones

Pinterest has been in the news lately. Pinterest, who?

I bet most people reading this blog are wondering what is Pinterest? TechCrunch just quoted their CEO about Pinterest joining the ranks of Twitter and Facebook as self-expression engines?! Not sure whether Twitter or Facebook are self-expression engines today, but Pinterest is one of many Tumblr clones that’s been killing it, lately.

Episode I: Tumblr’s raison d’etre?

A while back I’d asked whether Facebook is a walled tumblelog, and since then Tumblr has taken off in a big way. I mean, BIG way. Tumblr has established itself as the de facto social creativity platform on the planet. They’re the intersection of social and the creative arts (much like Apple’s at the intersection of tech and liberal arts) and Tumblr has excelled at scaling their site (with its GIF-heavy traffic) while maintaining their niche street cred.

Yes, I've to quote Jobs in every post I write. Pic Source: Gdgt

Episode II: The Attack of the Tumblr Clones

Enter 4 new sites that are carving out a name for themselves by emulating the tumblr model: focus on creativity (fashion, style, photography, etc.), make it super-easy way to create content, reblog, and like, and most importantly — create a vibrant community that loves said niche creative content. Each of them are doing it in their own way, and some of them have hit critical mass: Pinterest (Shopping), Instagram (Photography), Fancy & Everlane (Shopping).

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Episode III: The Commercialization of the Tumblr model

For now, I’m gonna focus on the two that are closest to Tumblr’s model of “self-expression” but aim to monetize your creativity by focusing on stuff that you can buy. How do they do that? By making it easy for you to “want”, “pin”,  or “fancy” stuff that you can buy. I didn’t say that; they did.

“The best way for a startup to get a dataset like that is to create some sort of self-expression platform, a way to express what you’re into …,” says Lavingia, who also designed the iPhone app. “You can’t directly ask users, ‘Hey we’d love all of your data! List the songs you like and the albums you’ve bought and the places you’ve visited and the food you’ve eaten.’ But you need these answers to ultimately make money.”

It’s one of the reasons, I don’t “like” stuff on Facebook, since I think it’s like a holiday party turned pyramid scheme garage sale. How long would you stay at that party? Also, Pinterest shouldn’t be talking about “getting a dataset” at this point. I think Lavingia has a knack for designing socially desirable sites (Turntable, Pinterest) and they are obviously focused on exploding the virality of Pinterest, but talk of monetizing my wants at this early stage creeps me out.

I spend a lot more time on Tumblr and Quora these days than on Facebook, primarily cos there is a vibrant, authentic community that I enjoy hanging out with; not because I feel like I’m being sold to. The minute I feel that my actions subject to relentless ads, I’d spend less time there. But, maybe the masses are different and could care less. I think the key is how the ad’s done, cos we all know, ads (besides death and taxes) is a constant in life.

Tumblr too, has wisely avoided this conundrum thus far but I find it interesting that sites like Pinterest will come out and embrace the fact that they want to monetize your expression. I think, Alexia, nailed the conclusion.

And we become so obsessed that we fail to fully realize that our self-expression is subsequently being catalogued, repackaged, and sold to the highest bidder — if a company has reached that stage in its growth. For a chance at reaching the top of that pyramid, hell maybe it’s worth it.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth it. Sometimes you just wanna go, where everybody knows your name. That is all.

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