Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pinterest secrets

Pinterest may be the “ladies” social networking site, but a Business Insider article from last February highlighted Pinterest’s growing problem with porn. BI pointed out that for Pinterest to generate ad revenue, it would have to “Find a way to crack down on the naked flesh and get back to fashion and recipes”. So, let’s get real here, Pinterest. Your new “secret boards” addition isn’t about “keeping track of holiday gifts, planning a special event, or working on a project you aren’t yet ready to share with the rest of the world”, it’s about giving all the naked, tattooed hipster chicks a place to roam free.

Regardless of intention, however, I find the release of “secret boards” a fascinating new string to Pinterest’s bow. Similarly, Twitter’s direct messaging facility - a known loss-maker for the platform - remains a key draw for its users. As Grace Dent wrote in ‘How to leave Twitter’, “...if one morning everyone’s direct message box was suddenly, accidentally posted in the public timeline there would be rioting in international cities by lunchtime. Most of this would be warring couples chucking bin-bags of clothes at each other”. Ultimately, while we all love to share and chat and banter, we also need the Internet equivalent of that dark corner of the pub in which to get up to no good.

Pinterest’s naughty corner is “secret boards”. As they say, you can “keep your secret boards to yourself or invite friends to pin with you”. Cheeky. In all seriousness, though, genuine privacy and real secrets are some of the few things a digital life cannot offer in the way our offline lives can. Online, we operate on the cusp of becoming victims of our own propensity to connect and share. Out there on the interwebs we are always just one wrong click away from the judgement of the government, international corporations, and, ultimately, our own nearest and dearest. We live in the age of the screenshot and seamless sync, where no indiscretion can ever truly be hidden, forgotten or flatly denied. Just ask the Generals Petraeus and Allen.

Whatever their motives, “secret boards” mark an interesting step not just for Pinterest but for the direction of social networking platforms as a whole. Human instinct for keeping secrets puts the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest between a rock and hard place. Do they cater to the private desires of their users by providing the digital dark corners in which to be naughty, or do they insist on purely public platforms in order to be nice to the money men?

However well these platforms strike a balance between their user needs and business needs, the responsibility for our behaviour remains our own. A direct message only allows for 140 characters. But a pin can say a thousand words. Whether we use them to be naughty or nice is down to us.