The first thing you will notice on Pinterest is that it is a clean, nice looking site. The concept behind it is straightforward too. Find an image that you like online and "pin" it on your Pinterest page using their handy little button that sits on your toolbar. (I use a similar button to click on gifts to add to a wishlist for a site called Findgifts.com, as a point of comparison for those of you who are familiar with that site.) Your Pinterest page is made up of "boards" or little windows in categories of your choosing so that you can organize images as you wish. Jamie shared a great article covering the basics of Pinterest.
So during my Pinterest weekend, I created the following categories to get me started: Museums I've visited and recommend, Interesting Documents, Fabulous Artifacts, Save Libraries, Favorite Places, Art, Archives, Quotables, and Gardening. Each contains photos I've found on the Internet and "Description" that I've added that describe the picture and/ or why I've chosen the picture for my Pinterest page. From my page, I can see the latest things put on Pinterest and choose to "follow" others and see what they are pinning. I can connect with friends; I can see statistics on how many people are "repinning" what I've pinned. People can comment on what I have pinned.
Early Observations about Its Value
1. For collection sharing and possibly for collaboration - I asked on Twitter which museums are using Pinterest. The Indianapolis Museum of Art responded that they use it to post images from their collections. http://pinterest.com/imamuseum/ . I can easily see the potential for them to also link to collections from other institutions that relate to their own to create a collaborative Pinterest venture. Pinterest gives you the option to allow others to pin to your page. I have not explored this yet, but I think this can help to make it another kind of valuable collaborative tool that makes room for a participatory experience.
2. For driving Internet traffic and discovering the interests of your audience - Pinterest tells me which of my "pins" are most popular and I can use this to drive people to my Pinterest site. I can also use this to drive Pinterest traffic to other social media sites I manage and to my web page. For example, I made a collage of orphan photos a few weeks ago that I posted on my blog. I pinned it - linking from the blog - in a Pinterest category that I called "ArchivesInfo." I can tell from my Pinterest statistics that a few people have "repinned" the image. From my blog statistics, I can see that many more clicked the image to view my blog post where the image lives.
I can similarly drive traffic by linking to related information in the "description" section. For example, in my category on "Museums I've visited," I realized that there were quite a few museums about which I've written blog posts. So in the comments section on specific applicable museum pins, I've added links to these posts. My National Heritage Museum pin is a sample of this.
3. For sharing expertise - One of the "pins" that I created in a category called "interesting documents" relates to a diary that I recently found in the public library in Kennebunk Maine. My friend commented on the diaries started and we began a conversation about the act of diary keeping and about paper preservation. Cultural heritage institutions can keep this in mind to encourage similar information sharing about collections and educational topics.
4. For generating dialogue - When I created the category "Save Libraries," I was thinking about all of the images, cartoons and news articles that I've seen out of Britain discussing their library closures. I am going to continue following events overseas and in the U.S. about the state of libraries and add more pins as news develops. I am also going to try to find a way to place questions or comments that get people thinking about these events. I can see a museum using Pinterest this way to encourage dialogue about their exhibits. Or, a library can choose an interesting image each day that can get people talking about a specific topic. This would have the added advantage of encouraging people to visit the library's web site and think about the role of the library in the community. To make it a participatory experience, encourage people to explore the information and pictures you introduce. Suggest a topic and encourage patrons to go seek more images for their own Pinterest pages to share with you.
In short, I have been on Pinterest for three days and already see limitless potential here for museums, libraries, and archives. Please give it a whirl. If you are already using it, please let us know how. What advantages do you see for sharing cultural knowledge through Pinterest?