Structured personalization has been a common feature among social networks these days, although this wasn’t always the case. Following the trend, Pearltrees, the Wikipedia-like visual curation platform, announced a deeper level of personalization today that will enable Premium users to add custom images to backgrounds and individual pearls.
Personalization had a bad rep circa MySpace 1.0 (not to be confused with the coming, lower-case “s” Myspace). The social network opened up a “free market” for customizing your profile pages and what users ended up doing was adding bedazzled gifs embedded in comments or the About Me section, and try as we might, we’ll never forget those seizure-inducing flickering backgrounds. This visual assault is partially what was so refreshing about the structure and clean white space of the early Facebook — it was in stark contrast to what we’d previously seen. “The problem with MySpace was that they were letting lots of other code run on their platform,” says Pearltrees Chief Evangelist, Oliver Starr.
In the same respect Facebook, learning from MySpace’s missteps, went the opposite direction with its overly controlling attitude toward the personalization of user profiles.
But between these polar opposites there’s a happy middle ground. There’s a trend toward relinquishing some control to enable the user-generated personalization of profiles. Even the notoriously strict Facebook now offers Timeline cover photos, and social networks like Path and Twitter followed in these footsteps by allowing users to upload their own version of a cover photo.
Pearltrees is also decidedly letting itself go, just a little bit, to liven up the bland white background and default pearls thumbnail pictures. It’s far more engaging than “white,” which is already a prevalent thematic color across social networks.
Adding images to Pearltrees is a cinch. A link to “background” in the bottom right hand corner of the profile box will open up a settings page where you can tinker with the icons in each Pearl, and edit the icons all the way up to the top hierarchical “Pearltree level.” In other words you can edit the icons’ images for the topics and subtopics. Users can also add a background image that corresponds to each Pearl. For example if you’ve got a Pearl for “Painters and Artists” you should add a collage of paintings to best represent what the Pearl is about. Or if your Pearl is about “Vincent Van Gogh,” a background photo of Van Gogh’s one of many self-portraits would be an ideal fit.
“In user tests, what we found was that people actually click a lot more to see the backgrounds change,” says Starr. I asked Starr if this was Pearltree’s first step to enable further customizable features, but he emphasized, rightfully so, that Pearltrees won’t let third-party code run on its site – and that means no .gif files.
The update will be rolling out on both its mobile and desktop versions, and the icons and background images will be optimized for each platform.