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the internet is serious business

Pinterest: A “Shocking” Example of Women Using the Internet

Last week, the media discovered Pinterest. Mashable reported that it drove more traffic than Google+ last month and was on par to match Twitter in click-through rates. Soon after, tech analysts debated whether Pinterest would be the next Groupon, soon be usurped by myriad copycat sites.

However, another topic started to emerge that should be far more troubling to social media users. Tech journalists covering the site started using phrases like “female-centric” and “catnip for women,” in their articles.

It’s a curious choice of words and not just because men founded the site.

Founder Ben Silbermann told HGTV that he created the site because, “As a kid, I loved collecting. I collected everything from insects to stamps to books. I’ve always thought that the things you collect — whether it’s the furniture in your home or the music on your iPod — says a lot about who you are. I thought it would be great to bring that entire experience online and help connect people who have common interests.”

His description is decidedly gender-neutral and easy to understand: a site to collect your interests. And yet, when tech blog Gizmodo put together its write-up on the site, the lead read, “Quick! Name the most perplexing social site you can think of. If you are a dude, it is probably Pinterest.”

Even MSN Money framed the conversation in terms of male v. female users: “Even though the site may be dominated by women’s interests, think of it this way: It’s essentially a guide telling men everywhere exactly what women want.”

Neither of these statements is a problem on its face. It’s true that women use the site in large numbers. In fact, Forbes is reporting that 70 percent of the user base is women. However, it should be no shock to seasoned tech reporters and talking heads that women use the Internet.

In fact, the core problem is the idea that somehow the site has less value or is inherently confusing because women are using it. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Was Reddit’s rise covered by tech bloggers and journalists with aside paragraphs like: “If you want to know what men like, go check out Reddit!”?
  2. Did snarky bloggers make pie-charts like this one when Tumblr was growing that pointed to gender stereotypes about men?
  3. Did tech analysts write blog posts about the “manliness” of any given tech startup?
  4. Did tech experts ever go out of their way to explain the appeal of a new social media site to women by stressing that it really wasn’t overtly manly?

If you answered “no” to all these questions, I’m not surprised.

Most social media experts agree that the way to build a user base is to start with thought-leaders in relevant fields and give them access to share what the site has to offer. When Silbermann and his team first launched Pinterest, they gave invitations to all the ALT Summit attendees to use the site. For who don’t know, ALT Summit’s core audience is largely women and creative types. The basic visual makeup of the site and its collection mechanism appealed to these types of users and soon, these women started talking about the site in their respective circles.

However, it wasn’t until Pinterest partnered with blogger SF Girl By Bay in May of 2010 on a project called “Pin It Forward”, that the site to truly took off with women. The project brought together 300 high-profile design bloggers (also primarily women) to create daily inspiration pinboards on the theme “What Home Means to Us”. This collaboration gave Pinterest the passionate audience it needed to survive in the long-term.

All of this aside, no good startup will last and make its way to the general public without users who come back again and again. The users must find the site beneficial to their lives, especially in a time where there is a new startup every day of the week.

The true reason why users are sticking with Pinterest and driving traffic in record numbers is because it’s beautiful and it’s useful. Sure, women are posting photos of their wedding dresses and baby outfits, but they’re also using it to post photos of their dogs, plan vacations and save creative tech accessories.

If a user can’t find a purpose for it, then they shouldn’t use it, regardless of gender. In the meantime, we should be urging tech writers to broaden their minds.  Yes, women are using the Internet. And we’re driving more traffic than ever before.

Elizabeth Giorgi is a writer and filmmaker from Minneapolis. She blogs about mixing life as a nerd with her career at In 2010, she was nominated for a Webby and won an Emmy for Science of Watchmen. Follow her on Twitter: @lizgiorgi


  • Anonymous

    Aargg so frustrating. Do all these people claiming Pinterest is “catnip for women” realize that, to get in, you still have to request an invite, a process that is incredibly quickened by having a friend who’s already got one? So if they launched to a bunch of women, it makes sense that women would share it with their friends…who are more likely to also be women?

  • Pspynett Rhyme

    I wonder if these tech bloggers find real pinboards similarly perplexing.

  • Nikki Lincoln

    Since all of my friends pin the kinds of stereotypically girly things, I’ve made it my mission to counter by posting tech gadgets and things from this site :)

  • Paula Gould

    Just posted to the WITI twitter and Facebook pages. Super annoying and ever so prevalent 

  • Life Lessons

    Oh good grief. Could we cut out the sexist nonsense please. Geesh. I like the fact the thing was founded by a man. So much gender sterotyping.

  • Michael Krzyzek

    Men never collect anything. Especially nerdy or geeky men. Pssshhh. I don’t collect comics and don’t know more than 1 or maybe 7 men that do. I don’t know any men that collect bloody everything from every Comic Con. I don’t know any men that collect dice sets. I don’t know any man, but me, that has a Batman maquette on his desk. I mean who really buys all those light sabers anyway? It’s the chicks I tell you. Just so they can have something to dust. Don’t even get me started on the Spike maquettes. Oh boy. Yup. Only for the women.

  • nmlop

    Ughh, such an annoying issue! Fantastic post though.

    Interesting points about tumblr especially – because it has such a reputation for being “a place where teenage girls make fan posts.” Of course it has tons of other stuff and very “serious” and “masculine” blogs as well. Now I’m off to see what I can find about the demographics of tumblr users!

  • Geek Girl Diva

    Hey, you don’t dust your collectibles. We pay someone for that. And you don’t collect things. I buy them for you. ;p

  • Michael Krzyzek

    So my point stands. Women always buy the collectible things. So they, or someone else, can dust them. Dusting by Proxy I call it. :P

  • Geek Girl Diva

    And I use your money to buy stuff. OMG, exponential stereotypes FTW!

  • sleep

    Umm… I went there, and I saw shoes, swimsuits, purple outfits, cooking, shirtless guys, wedding dresses, dolls, nail paint, sewing, flowers, jewelry, junkfood, 
    hair care…………

  • Anonymous

     I was going to say – I wouldn’t use tumblr as an example in this article, because it seems to be pretty female-dominated as well. At least, that’s the stereotype, and I’ve definitely seen pie charts mocking it as being full of squeeing fangirls and silly memes.

    (reddit was a better choice of example – it’s definitely male-dominated, with an unpleasant undercurrent of sexism, but it’s only recently that they’ve started to get called out on that.)

  • josh chalchinsky

    after reading this article I went to to check it out. And it was entirely about women. Clothes, fashion, recipes, makeup, random cute pictures of babies/bunnies/tatum channing (not cute to me), and other things that women like because they posted them there. So…what was your point again?

  • Anonymous

    What I find funny is that the ‘girliness’ of Pinterest is being highlighted as some kind of aberration, when in fact *most* social networking sites have more female than male users. (I saw a chart illustrating that the other day, which I’m now struggling to find again, but take my word for it.) Granted, the demographics of Pinterest might be particularly skewed more than most, but it’s still in line with the overall trend. Really, it’s the male-dominated social networks that are aberrations; what they should be asking is ‘why is social networking more popular with women than men?’.

    (Anecdotal aside: I’m male, and had literally never come across Pinterest before reading this article. So thanks for the link, I’ll have to check it out.)

  • ZenPoseur

     I would just like to say that the preceding exchange was glorious.

  • Michael Krzyzek

    So I buy things by proxy so you can dust then by proxy so we can argue about it on the internet. Something tells me that this is the exact moment when the internet implodes.

  • Anonymous

     Or, to phrase that question differently: ‘where are all the dudes?!’

  • Fruity_ebooks

    I use and like Pinterest, but I have to agree that it’s confusing. Not “inherently confusing because women use it,” but because the interface is a massive, roiling mess of largely context-free images in no particular order. Also, I’m not a big fan of the overtly consumer-goods-oriented gestalt of much of Pinterest content, so, like Nikki notes, I have done some pinning outside the box.

  • Deborah Harowitz

    It’s all in what you pick to pin and who you pick to friend. If their thing is wedding dresses and make-up techniques, that is what you’ll see the most of of. If all your friends are bungy jumpers and sky divers you will more likely see less bling and more sports gear pinned. If you are an artist using it like you do your Inspiration bulletin board in your studio, all your arty friends will do the same.

  • Anonymous

    If you try and get the point of the article, it’s saying that yes the
    site is female dominated, but why does commentary about it need to treat
    that as some special (and in some cases mildly derogatory) aspect?

  • Teresa Jusino

    I am a woman and I’ve never heard of Pinterest until right this second. Then again, I’m reading a site for geek women.

    And why is it a bad thing, exactly, when something is called female-centric? I would love to get to a point in time when calling something “for women” isn’t considered a derogatory remark.

  • Amanda W

    I only discovered Pinterest last week. I am in love. So far my favorite categories include Geekery, Home Decor, Cosplay, Arts & Crafts, and fun desserts. I would add Videogames but that would get blocked at work so I’m avoiding it.

  • Michael Krzyzek

    I would love for a time when calling something “for women” isn’t a selling point. The sad truth is that demographics are what people (mostly ad companies and VCs) like to pigeonhole new things with. How about just telling us what you are going to let us do? Who cares if you have a penis or a vagina or purple skin?

  • Michael Krzyzek

    I checked out Pinterest. After seeing it I can understand why the article was written (although it was from Gizmodo so yeah). It looked like the internet puked on my screen. I could not figure out what this site was for based on just going to their home page. I spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out if there
    were categories or something to make sense of the whole thing. I saw a
    picture of a desert I wanted to make and clicked on it. Then got a
    bigger picture. Ok then.

    So I got an invite to Pinterest. After that it made a whole lot more sense. You pick categories. Ok that makes sense. You pick people. Uh ok, kinda weird. But still it makes sense. I still kept clicking on things trying to get more information about them. Like how to make this or where to buy that or info on this. It took me forever to figure out that it was a place to post pictures that people liked.

    I place the blame on Pinterest really. If you go to their site with no context how can you possibly make sense of it? Maybe I’m just an idiot but perhaps they should have a simpler page that describes what they are trying to do and ask people to create profile and share the things they love via pictures.

  • Geek Girl Diva

    Why thank you. ;) It’s one of the reasons I keep him around. He makes me laugh. 

  • Geek Girl Diva

    Not yet. Someone has to tweet about this conversation. Wait, that’s too meta. 

    And, for the record, yes this has to do with the above post. I have no idea how anymore. Save that it proves that men collect things and women like more than pretty pictures. I think. Right?

    I need someone to think for me by proxy.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely, but the point here is that it wasn’t used as a bad thing (okay, some people are … they’re losers) but that the site needs to be labeled at all. It’s not a case of women = bad, but women = weird. Whoa, watch out, this is a chick site (chick movie, chick drink, chick car, etc)! It implies that the rest of the internet is by default mens’ sites. Which I wish I could disprove.

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t *about* women, it was about the users, who happen to be women. It could just as easily be about men, too. Which would no doubt be all (semi-)naked women, which I’m sure straight guys would like.

  • Danielle McCarney

    I’ve been using it for a while now. I have a ‘geekery’ board, a board for planning my university graduation outfit, a ‘nurse geekery’ board (guess my nearly-there profession!), a recipes board (best virtual recipe book ever!) and a board where I pin future gifts for people I love. I also have clothes, hair and makeup, yes. But they are a part of who I am, not all that I am. I have women friends who also use Pinterest who do not have those categories at all.

    I really love how you can select which of your friends’ boards you follow. I’ve gradually pared down what I do and do not want to see.

  • Daniel Cunningham

    If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck then………………….

  • Anonymous

    When you enlarge the pin you’re interested in, there is a link above it and to the right that should, (if the pinner did it correctly) lead you to the original source.  

    The purpose is that instead of having to bookmark everything on the internet you may want to go back to, you can just pin it to your relevant board.  Anytime you need to go back to that particular corner of the internet again, you just go to your board, click the pin, then click the link back to the original source.

    If you categorize your board it will show on the main board for the category.  If you keep seeing things of interest to you come up from the same person, you can choose to follow them.  When you are logged into the site you will automatically go to the “Pinners you follow” page.  Which after a while should only be showing stuff of interest to you.  If you bother to follow anyone, that is.

    If you aren’t logged in then it send you to “Everything” which is a big mish mash of crap.

    FWIW, I’m a woman, and I spend most of the time I spend on Pinterest on the Geek board, with occasional forays into humor, architecture, and art.

    There is definitely a traditionally female slant to the place.  But all anyone has to do to change that is sign up and pin traditionally NOT female stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Then better remind that duck how wrong and stupid and inferior it is to be a duck?

    Haters gonna hate.

  • Anonymous

    The issue is not that the site is dominated by women – that’s a statistical fact even if some users, like me, don’t repin the ‘girly’ content that is apparently so repugnant to these particular writers. THE ISSUE is that because the site is dominated by women it’s being dismissed as cutesy/stupid/gimmicky/less-than, written about in a derisive “look-what-the-silly-women-folk-are-up-to-now” way, and that is both insulting and harmful.

    Sure, some users pin hundreds of ‘dream wedding dresses’, but some of us pin tutorials on building bookcases, shelves and light tables. We post ways to stretch budgets (both time and money wise) so we can cook ourselves amazeballs meals instead of eating processed, pre-packaged crap. We share work out tips and health info, and repost funny/sexy/inspiring  content that for whatever reason tickles our fancy. Perhaps that IS a uniquely feminine use of the internet, but…no, wait – that just sounds like the whole damn internet. Pinterest is just another tool. Why shit on it just because it’s proven out to be popular with women?

    Look, when I excitedly sent my boyfriend a Pinterest invite last year – thinking how cool it would be for us to share vision boards of construction projects, tech buys, and type-A organizational ideas – he clicked around for a bit and then announced “I don’t get it” and stopped using it. I was kinda bummed at first, but I didn’t go accusing him of being a macho asshole. It’s just a matter of personal preference. (For my part, I positively hate Stumble’s interface which he uses all the time.)

    [It should be noted that since his Pinterest rejection we've completed 3 house projects from my boards, we have both cooked countless recipes found via pinners I follow, and he swipes my pics/memes and reposts them or likes them on facebook all the damn time.]

    That said, I really wish with all my heart that there was both “Block person” and “Block more like this” functionality on the site. Even in the EVERYTHING feed, I personally don’t want to see wedding dresses or Bible quotes or images of aborted fetuses with slogans (yup, saw that today). I think a little more control over the content each user sees in the EVERYTHING feed would help users find pins and boards that match their interests. (Yes there are category feeds, but they are also too general for my taste.)

  • Ryan Ledendecker

    Pinterest is a huge fire breathing dragon, blowing new life (and new customer$) into so many industries that were dying. It’s so neat to see another social site with so much potential for users and sellers.

    Not to mention, Pinterest will be the place for many industries to spot trends and to find out what’s hot. That’s one of the reasons why we launched – as a way for the community to vote up and down the latest and greatest things. 

  • Seanna Lea LoBue

    I pin tons of stuff each week. Food items, craft items, techy craft items, holiday focus. About half of it is inherently girly and the other half is pretty much gender neutral.  Maybe if they looked at people’s boards they would at least say something like, “yeah, most of the user base is women, but that doesn’t mean the site is girly. Look and you will see that women are interested in a wide variety of things, because they are just people too.”

  • Julianna Buck

    Don’t just go with the people they randomly assign you to follow.  Run searches and find more geeky stuff – there’s not as much, but it’s out there, and I’m going to add more.  :-)

  • Anonymous

  • Michael Krzyzek

    Huh. Maybe it’s my browser but ever think I’ve enlarged so far does not have a link back to the original, just links to other users or groups. Which is kinda frustrating since I was hoping to use it as a way to find interesting things. For instance I saw this picture of a great fountain in a yard. It would be nice to see how that was done. My guess is that many people aren’t doing it correctly.

    The initial page you get when not logged in has to be changed. Seriously, it is probably the worst thing to show someone when they first come to the site. At the very least their should be a large section at the top with a welcome message and a brief description of what the site is about. Below that can be the display of everything. As it stands the page just looks like one of those link grabbing spam sites you see when you miss-type a url.

    I wasn’t off put by all the “female” stuff that showed up, it was that it made absolutely no sense at all.

  • Anonymous

    I just control click the picture, then control click the other picture and the source shows up in a new tab. I have a Pinterest account but unfortunately, neither Mozilla or IE will allow me to pin things! It’s the only problem I have. I’ve tried from the site, I’ve tried from their “widget” thingy or whatever that you attach to your favorites. A box will show up asking me what and where I want to pin stuff but the submit button leads to nothing! But the site is generally easy to use otherwise.

  • Eboné Smiley

    Research has shown that as a group, women are shoppers and make a lot of the buying decisions in their worlds so as a site it makes since that Pinterest is female dominated, but I’m sure as time continues (the site is still new) that there will be more men on the site and if not…who cares! I love Pinterest for my business and for my personal interests. As stated in this great article, Pinterest is great  “because it’s beautiful and it’s useful.”

  • Jayme

    If you need an invite, let me know! :)

    As far as Pinterest goes, I know quite a few men using it to plan their weddings and/or wedding designs for friends. But maybe it’s just because I have a lot of designer friends?

    I use it for pinning ANYTHING I like, particularly if I want to remember it for later.

    I imagine it could be argued that women are more social than men in general and thus, more likely to use social networking more. But my best friend’s husband has created his own social network marketing company, so? Poo on stereotypes.

  • Margo Romanowski

    I was shown the site by a friend of mine at the office and decided to join.  I went the “normal way”, and had to wait a full two weeks for login credentials.  Who the eff to they think they are to have a waiting list for a stupid website?  THAT IS LIVE?!  If you want it to be word of mouth, do not have a way for users to sign up on their own.  

    By the time I got my credentials, I was so fed up with it I never logged in, never used it.  Eff them.  I have evernote, tumblr, and that is good enough for me.  If you want to know what I like, check out my tumblr.  Sheesh.  Being a systems manager, I was not going to give them the satisfaction that I was “so excited to finally get my credentials!”  Yeah, screw that.

  • Michael Krzyzek

    Ah that did it. I clicked on everything but the expanded picture. You don’t even have to control click, at least on my system, it automatically opens the original in a new window.

  • Being Geek Chic

    I agree – it’s all about tailoring your boards. I put together a list of girl nerd boards for myself here:

  • philaphobic

    Sometimes people (or pinterest?) screw up the links so you can find yourself in a cycle like that. BUT 99% of the time you click the small image, then click the larger image. I agree that this is stupid, but it does usually work.

  • Dhruv Karunakaran

    On a side note, is that Alistair from Dragon Age I see?

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I realize that many of those may belong to women, but plenty of guys like those things (particularly purple outfits, cooking, shirtless guys, shoes, dolls, sewing, and junkfood). :D

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Again, plenty of men like fashion, recipes, and animal photos.

  • Tardis_blue

     It changes what you see based on your likes, I believe.  I see funny animal and architecture pix, really unusual tattoos, geeky accessories and clothes, steampunky things, artsy/craftsy things, tromp l’oeils,  wacky/bizarre/simply impressive natural scenery, bizarre/creative interior decorating…

  • Tardis_blue

     Also, again, that’s not all that’s on there.  I think it defaults to that because the Pinterest people have their own stereotypes, because once you’ve been using it for a while, it becomes more personalized.  I saw those things at first, too, and it irritated me (I’m not that girly of a girl), but I started doing searches for things I AM interested in, and now it shows me things more suited to my tastes.  And there is plenty of variety on there–oddly enough, not all women are into pink, frilly, baby, wedding crap, so even if the population was 100% female, there would still be a wide enough variety on there to suit just about anyone.

  • hebe quinton

    Despite the good points made in the article, the author still uses phrases like, “Summit’s core audience is largely women and creative types,” as if women NE creative types, or are abnormal, where as the normal men are the creative types.  sigh.

  • Rori

    At first I really was not impressed with getting yet another social site, but after using it, I find it’s invaluable for creative research. Anyone have to create “mood boards” for an art class? It’s like that only so much easier. I think it may become an invaluable design aid, just because you can organize images so quickly and easily. Sure, some people may just pin a thousand-million wedding dresses, but Paris Hilton also has a twitter, so, you know.

    More to the article, it just exhausts me the way people equate traditionally feminine interests with being bad, or second class. I can see why ladies liking lady stuff on the internet is SO scary though, it’s so much easier for us to hand over our money directly to the service/product providers, rather than hope some intermediary buyer decides what we like is worth stocking :D

  • Anonymous

    but that would mean treating women as people!   Men are people.  ‘Females’ are inferior.

  • Katie

    I think the site is more geared towards people with more visual minds, rather than those with more list/word oriented minds, rather than male/female. I have both male and female connections on Pinterest and both genders mostly post design-y/house remodeling/travel pics. The only difference is that the female friends post more fashion pictures. That’s because hey guess what, I have friends based on common interests, not gender, and even more shockingly, men and women can share common interests!

    I find it perfect for compiling groups of things that interest me because it’s easier for me to pick out what I’d like to buy/make/do/use as visual inspiration if I can see  the thing. My husband doesn’t get it at all, but I don’t think it’s because he’s a man, I think it’s because his brain works like a PC’s directory tree and the images just mess it all up for him. Different strokes.

    I do find it continuously depressing that anything that appeals to or is meant to appeal to women is automatically considered to be lacking in or lesser in quality or inherently worthless to men. Just because men don’t relate to something doesn’t mean it sucks, actually, and just because many women do relate to something doesn’t mean that men won’t as well if they explore it. It’s pretty offensive that this continues to be assumed to be the case so often. 

  • Keri Hyde

    I wasn’t a fan of Pinterest at first (being a verbally-minded rather than visually-minded type), but it’s growing on me. Like a bunch of other commenters here, I use it for memes, geek stuff, recipes and miscellaneous interesting photos/art, and avoid the clothes/hair/makeup/wedding/kids boards– the cool thing is that you don’t have to follow all of a user’s boards, just the ones you’re interested in. I admittedly wish there was more of the type of content I like and less of the stuff I’m not into, but the best way to change that is to post good stuff myself and hope it catches on.

    And for those who think there’s nothing derogatory in perceptions of the site as “feminine,” I’d have to disagree. Recently some guys I know were jeering to the effect that Pinterest users were all internet-clueless and easily scammed and trolled– not that they could offer any actual examples, of course. Not sure why one would assume that a not-yet-mainstream, invite-only new media site would be entirely populated by technological illiterates, aside from a few nasty stereotypes that come to mind…

  • Christopher O’Brien

    Oh! So it’s like, but clicky.

  • Kim

    My friend just met a chocolate man on Blackwhitemeet.COMit’s where for men and women looking for interracial’ship for a fabulous lifestyle
    It’s a nice place for black white sing’les, to interact with each other…no bounds or extremes in front of true love.

  • Flimbery

    As schlocky as the presentation of this “data” on Pinterest was, I’m a little more interested in what this reveals about our society.

    Maybe women feel more pressured to compare themselves to others and validate themselves online? If that’s true, then why?

    We’re arguing about how the media writes about Pinterest when we should really be asking if our society should be using a tool that promotes materialism in the first place.