You’ve heard of the social graph, now meet the interest graph. While Facebook and Google+ have built their social networks around collecting and networking your contacts, there’s a new platform emerging where instead of leveraging friends, it leverages content. Your mind should immediately turn to Pinterest and its collective visual bookmarking clones (if it doesn’t, you haven’t been using the Internet enough). These sites aren’t concerned with helping you find and communicate with your friends — that’s really just a side benefit. Instead their core focus is to curate and collect things — things you want, things you like, things you bought, things you made or want to make.
In this way it’s a much more tangible network: you’re visually bookmarking the Web in an almost to-do list sort of way. One site is taking that organizational aspect of the platform and actually showing you your interest graph instead of just talking about it. French startup Pearltrees announced today that it has raised $6.7 million (€5 million) toward new funding. As you might have guessed, a “pearl” is basically a visual bookmark, and they are organized according to topic, creating a tree. A user’s interests are then viewed as a collection of pearls branching out in different directions. You can basically chart how your areas of interest intersect and deviate. It’s also a community endeavor, and you can collaborate with others on a Pearltree.
The site launched a little over two years ago and in that time it’s benefitted from the growing attention in the interest graph — it had 30 million pageviews last month. It’s been growing steadily at 15-percent a month and its users have created 15 million pearls which make up two million trees.
Sure those aren’t Pinterest numbers, but Pearltrees shouldn’t be lumped in with the virtual collection site and its clones. While it’s certainly visual and interactive, the site asks more from its users than glazing and repinning — there’s more substance there. It sort of makes us think it’s what Digg could have been.
“Pinterest and Pearltrees share a common aspect: curation is treated in both products as a pleasure per se, and not an additional feature,” CEO Patrice Lamothe tells us. “The commonality ends there, however. The things you curate, the way you curate them and the benefits you get from them are different. While Pinterest focuses on images, Pearltrees was built to organize Web pages. While Pinterest’s first benefit is probably to share a board — or know you can share it — Pearltrees first benefit is to build your own large, deep, constantly changing library of the Web. As a consequence, the type of use, the type of people using the products and the way they interact in both social systems have very little in common.”
It also isn’t a girls-only club. Lamothe tells us the site is fairly “gender neutral.”
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Pearltrees is the algorithm it has developed to determine how closely related interests are. It’s called TreeRank and it analyzes the site’s pearls and computes their position and overlapping topics. “It tells us whether two pearltrees are close to each other, share a common URL, include each other… and so on… all of this in real time,” says Lamothe. “It enables many Pearltrees with the ‘discovery’ feature, you see clusters of pearltrees displayed according to their position within the graph: these results are actually very close to TreeRank raw results.”
What it does have in common with Pinterest is that it’s a marketer’s dream. It’s yet another way to find what’s most interesting to consumers and to see how they develop and follow Web content. “The activities of Pealtrees’ contributors have already resulted in an interest graph with unparalleled richness and depth,” a press release from the company says. If you’re being cynical, you can look at this and see a platform that’s tasking users with building a resource for marketers and advertisers while using game mechanics to make it fun. But what we’re seeing with these platforms is that it’s a two-way street (as is everything social, at this point): you have a service to organize the Web and that has seriously one-upped the bookmarking sites of yesterday and businesses have unforeseen insight into the consumer mind. You get what you give.
We did ask if Pearltrees had an affiliate linking program like Pinterest’s and were told it does not, but a different monetization model will be introduced later this year.
Pearltrees will also be working on releasing an iPhone app as well as the API, so the site’s future could be found in platform integration.