For the founder of a company as hot as Pinterest, Ben Silbermann has been awfully quiet of late. After claiming the title of fastest-growing web site ever (according to Comscore, at least), wowing audiences at the South By Southwest Interactive conference, and bagging a cool $100 million in venture capital from the Japanese retail giant Rakuten, Silbermann went off the grid this summer to address what has been in the eyes of many a rare shortcoming: The lack of apps. Despite Pinterest’s exploding web traffic, the three-year-old company has not had a presence on either the iPad or Android platforms.
"Pinterest was made for tablets," Silbermann confided to me last month. He agreed to temporarily lift Pinterest’s summer-long lockdown to give Fast Company an inside look at its development process. (It was the first time he’d spoken with a reporter at length; the results will be published next month in a cover story as part of October’s Design Issue.) During a visit to the company’s new headquarters, an expansive loft in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, I sat in on a design critique for the new iPad app and got to play with an early version, which Silbermann unveiled at a launch party last night.
Reporters and some of Pinterest’s most active users were treated to a make-your-own terrarium station (terrariums being a popular Pinterest meme), as Silbermann showed off the new iPad app as well as a new app for Android devices and an updated version of the Pinterest’s iPhone app. It was the biggest, Silbermann told me, the most important launch since he and co-founder Evan Sharp created the original Pinterest grid at the end of 2009. "In perfect world we would have had this a year ago," says Sharp.
Though the update to the iPhone app and the new Android offering give Pinterest an improved presence on mobile phones, the big news is the iPad app. Even before last night’s launch, iPad use accounted for more than 50 percent of Pinterest’s mobile traffic—despite the fact that the company had no app—according to data from AddThis. More than that, iPads, which tend to be used in more relaxed settings, seem perfectly attuned to the laid-back user experience Silbermann and Sharp are trying to cultivate. "You want to be comfortable and just let yourself really explore things," says Silbermann. "Pinterest is a discovery experience."
The iPad app largely mimics the look and feel of Silbermann and Sharp’s popular website. Users can share, or "pin," images and can explore the pin boards of users they follow. But crucially, the new app uses a feature called "sheets" designed to make it easier to skip between pin boards in a manner similar to tabs on a web browser. Another nifty tweak: A button that allows users to see all the pins from a given web site. The idea behind both features is to subtly encourage users to find new people to follow, and ultimately, to create a way for users to easily discover new stuff without going to a Google search box, the Amazon.com homepage, or anywhere else.
That’s important to Pinterest as a business. As Silbermann told me repeatedly—and as the forthcoming Fast Company feature will explore in depth—Pinterest isn’t trying to be just another social network. Silbermann and Sharpe are trying to solve the problem of discovery, helping their millions of users find (and eventually buy) new things. "We want to build a service that helps you discover things you didn’t know you wanted," Silbermann says. "There’s a ton of opportunity in that core behavior."
[Top image: Africa Studio/Shutterstock]