What Pinterest needs to fix – and fast

bob the builder meets pinterestLately, you can’t help but hear about Pinterest’s culminating issues. The site has been plagued by the possibility of copyright infringement and skepticism about its business model. And now the unavoidable is finally happening: phishing scams have hit the platform. Venture Beat noticed the faux promos peppering the site yesterday, and it’s not the first nor last time it’ll happen.

It’s just one more knock against Pinterest. But it reveals a painful fact: it’s time for the peppy young startup to buckle down and fix the mounting problems before it simply buries them. Here, the primary problems with Pinterest, and suggestions for how to make things right.

Stop scaring your users away

At the heart of everyone’s inner “to pin or not to pin?” debate lies the question of citation. While Pinterest has made attempts to address this, largely in the form of supplying code that prevents images from being pinned and thus uploaded to its servers, the site’s viral nature means it’s not entirely able to avoid copyright issues. No matter what, passing around images without properly attributing them is far, far too easy.

And it’s scaring off users. Lawyer and photographer Kirsten Kowalski has blogged about her Pinterest fears and how they led her to leave the site entirely. “I immediately thought of the ridiculously gorgeous images I had recently pinned from an outside website, and, while I gave the other photographer credit, I most certainly could not think of any way that I either owned those photos or had license, consent, or release from the photographer who owned them,” she writes.

Web ethics are being tested, but worse yet, the legal lingo is cause for more concern. According to Pinterest policy, if an artist sues for copyright infringement the users will be held responsible for hiring a defense lawyer for themselves and Pinterest. This little excerpt here explains:

“YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT, TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, THE ENTIRE RISK ARISING OUT OF YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE SITE, APPLICATION, SERVICES AND SITE CONTENT REMAINS WITH YOU.”

Remember a few years back when record labels went after handfuls of everyday consumers, suing them to not only recoup losses but seemingly to make examples of them? The odds of you getting sued for pinning or repinning something sound incredibly slim – but they aren’t impossible. And now that word has spread, what are the odds that someone out there might want to exploit this loophole and make a haul on licensing issues? I’m honestly wondering how long it will be until the first Pinterest lawsuit lands some poor user in court. It’s a time bomb. Offering up code to protect individual sites isn’t good enough: maybe Pinterest needs to only use thumbnails and link through to an image’s origin, or its Terms of Service need a good once-over and rewrite. Or the company could work on creating case law to address the changing landscape of Internet citations, maybe partnering with similar sites to do this. Most of all, it needs to start talking, because the silence on this issue is deafening.

Save us from the overshare

pinterest timelineYou might have noticed that Pinterest has a Facebook Timeline app. And when I say “might,” I mean you’ve definitely seen your News Feed flooded with an abundance of Pinterest-pushed posts. The site’s membership numbers mean you could easily find half a day’s status updates being Pinterest-related. That’s just too much; personally, if I wanted to see this much Pinterest content, I’d go use the site.

It’s not only annoying readers. Some users weren’t quite aware of the depth of the Pinterest Timeline app — not everyone wants their “Wedding board” pushed to Facebook in its entirety (and not everyone wants to see it…). Still, there’s a certain significance to being a Timeline app (although, again, we really wish Facebook would tell us what exactly that is) so it’d be helpful if Pinterest could just figure out a way to toe a line here. The most obvious option would be to have a private board option — or at least a private pin. Or, when you download the Timeline app, you indicate which boards you do or don’t want to push updates from via a checkbox.

Finding an audience  

I just about fainted when I saw this link:

pinterest law practice

When businesses first started experimenting with Facebook, it became clear very quickly that social media is not a one-size-fits-all medium. Now, the same applies to Pinterest. But it’s new and popular and boasts incredible user numbers — so of course, everyone wants to get in on the success.

But that doesn’t mean they should. For the reasons outlined above, the fact that users could find themselves responsible for inappropriately pinned content means that until Pinterest figures out precisely how to address the looming copyright problem, professionals might want to avoid the site — or do intensive homework to make sure what they are pinning has been given the OK.

There’s a larger problem with Pinterest’s audience, however. The site has grown inconceivably quickly; likely faster than anyone within Pinterest could have imagined. Businesses have jumped on the bandwagon and are using Pinterest to promote their products or services — which goes entirely against the platform’s professed purpose. According to Pinterest etiquette:

“Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.”

By now, however, we’ve all seen the myriad of “how-tos” explaining precisely you can use the site to drive traffic — and hopefully purchases — to your business. It’s a huge impetus to get on board with the platform. So it’s sort of a problem that businesses — who have the most to gain by using the site — are a) not Pinterest’s main target and b) could stand the most to lose by using the site if they get sued.

It’s time to narrow a bit: some social sites start that way (Facebook) and some need to work their way there. If every law office, accounting firm, and local travel agency creates a Pinterest to promote their respective companies, it’s going to degrade the platform’s focus. There should be some designated difference between a business’ page and a user’s — we know, that’s a very Facebook thing to do, but it might help actually keep the site closer to what it wants to do. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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