Decentralization of the User Experience Case Study: Pinterest

Back in 2007, I wrote about decentralized e-commerce. The basic idea was that eventually the point-of-sale would migrate away from your primary website and onto other websites that syndicate your content. Not only would they syndicate your content, they would syndicate your checkout path and enable users to buy your products without leaving their sites. With its obvious pros and cons, we have since seen e-commerce decentralize more with newer “2.0”-type companies and less with the old dinosaurs.

But today we’re going to talk about a different form of decentralization: that of the user experience and content generation. With the advances of modern browsers, it’s now possible to augment the user experience in ways that were simply not possible before. More specifically, it is possible to extend the reach of our brands and our websites beyond our domain and onto any site the user is visiting.

A relatively new site, Pinterest, has caught my attention for its innovative use of “beyond the domain” user experience. Pinterest is, at its essence, a virtual corkboard on which you can pin photos. That’s where it starts, but nowhere near where it ends. Social connection is paramount to the site, and individual boards can be shared with others. In fact, you log in via either your Facebook or Twitter log-ins, so sharing and following others is part of the lifeblood of the site. The system (I am assuming) has affiliate relationships with the large e-commerce players, so they are most likely monetizing the site from the products people link to. I don’t know that for a fact, but it would seem like an obvious thing to do.

But this all happens on Pinterest.com, so where is the decentralization? That comes into play when you ask the question “how do I put images on one of my boards?” The answer comes in the form of an ingenious “Bookmarklet.” What’s that? It’s basically a JavaScript overlay that is disguised as a browser bookmark. When you join the site, it has you bookmark this mini-application that works in your browser. Then, when you are on any site on the Internet, you simply click “Pin It” in your bookmark bar.

Once you click “Pin It” (and remember that you are not at Pinterest.com now, but on any random site you are browsing), an overlay appears above the site you are on. The overlay displays each image that was on the web page you were visiting, and you can scroll through them and “Pin” the image you want. The system lets you enter a description and then lets you carry on with your day, or you can click to go to Pinterest.com and view what you just pinned.

What I think is amazing about this is that it takes the “user-generated content” many steps further. In a web 1.0 word, you would have had to go to Pinterest.com and upload the images you want to be on your various boards. In a web 2.0 world, you would have been able to simply copy and paste URLs, or drag them onto your board. If you were About.com or a similar company doing something like this, you would have an ugly top frame that tries to control the content frame of the browser in a very web 1.0 way.

But Pinterest uses a technique that is not only web 2.0, but post-web 2.0 in my opinion. It has built an elegant layer that rests on top of any website in a non-intrusive way. It has created a way to decentralize its content generation process. In fact, most of a user’s time interacting with Pinterest is not happening on its site at all. This really takes the argument of “customer service in a convenient channel” and puts a spin on it. Pinterest is saying “we want you to add content to our site from wherever is convenient for you.” The center of Pinterest’s universe is the Internet itself, and it has built a decentralized user experience where literally all roads lead back to its domain.

How can you apply this kind of innovative thinking to your online brand experience? If anyone ever joked to you “if only we could build our own browser,” now you have the chance. If you could build a browser just for your brand, what would the features be? If you can answer that question, you can build a bookmarklet in the manner that Pinterest did and expand beyond the confines of your domain.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Leave them below!

Until next time…
Jack

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