Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann on creating the anti-social media platform
Pinterest wants to be the anti-social media platform.
Founder Ben Silbermann said the app, which allows users to “pin” pictures from around the web onto personal “boards,” says its primary goal is to inspire and ultimately get people offline. People can use Pinterest to gather recipes, help plan weddings or come up with ideas to redecorate their homes.
“At its most basic level, it’s just about you,” Silbermann told CNN Business’ Laurie Segall in a recent interview. “It’s not about following the news. It’s not about accruing followers. It’s not about following celebrities. It’s really about your personal interests.”
Since it launched in 2010, the platform has attracted about a quarter-billion users who check it monthly. That’s less than Twitter (321 million), Instagram (more than 1 billion) and Facebook(2.32 billion).
Pinterest started largely as a tool for parents, especially moms, but its user base has expanded, according to Silbermann. Creative professionals are increasingly using it to organize ideas: He recently learned that a writer from the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” used Pinterest to create mood boards for the show’s 80s theme.
Unlike many of its competitors, Pinterest does not have so-called influencers who are paid by advertisers to post content. And the company allows people to keep their boards private.
“I think there are a lot of things that we could do in the product that would grow the number of users faster, but that wouldn’t be in line with the [Pinterest’s] spirit,” he said.
Silbermann says the company has been “fortunate” to attract investors and users who support its commitment to long-term growth. Pinterest is reportedly planning to go public this year.
“A lot of technology companies are grappling with this tension between just growing at all costs, and making sure that the way that the technology fits into people’s lives is something they consider positive,” he said.
But Silbermann admitted even Pinterest posts can have unintended consequences. For example, parents can use the platform to get over-the-top ideas for, say, making a Halloween costume or throwing a birthday party — and it can create the feeling of inadequacy. Studies show something similar about envying the lives of others on Facebook.
“Everyone is like, ‘Did you have a really fancy birthday party for your kid?’ And it was just like, we got a sheet cake from Safeway and ordered pizza,” he said. “People begin to feel pressured to be something other than themselves.”
While larger social media rivals like Facebook and Twitter have been loudly criticized by regulators and in the media for spreading fake news and foreign election meddling, Pinterest has generally flown below the radar — even though it too has been used as a tool to distribute some Russian propaganda.
Overall, however, Silbermann said he is “optimistic” about the internet’s impact on society.
“I’ve never thought about technology as good or bad. It’s not moral or immoral. I think technology is a tool, and then it’s what you do with that technology,” he said. “The question that a lot of companies and leaders have to ask themselves is, what do we want the technology to be used for at the end?”