Just when it seemed as though bookmarking sites were stalling out, along come several start-ups with a new look and venture capital backing.
Pinterest, a small company based in Palo Alto, Calif., is not just about products visitors can buy, although that is its focus. Users can bookmark, or link to and display, images from around the Web or upload any photo. The site looks like a mood board or a grid of many Tumblrs joined together, as if Tumblr had been genetically spliced with Twitter’s DNA.
The name is, in fact, a hybrid of “pin,” as in to pin something on a mood board, and “interest.”
Two other new sites, TheFancy and Svpply, share the same clean Tumblr-type look, but are more focused on product hunting and don’t give users as much scope to impose their own stamp. In fact, the appeal of Pinterest may be that it is very similar to blogging, but much easier to do.
As for how the site will bring in money, “We don’t know yet,” co-founder Ben Silbermann admitted frankly over tea at a Starbucks down the street from his office, a converted house hidden behind a courtyard that was previously home to generations of Stanford University students. The important thing is to focus on creating a service people want to use, he said, echoing the current thinking in Silicon Valley.
Fashion is one of the most popular categories on all three sites. Food, crafts and interiors are also big on Pinterest, where Anthropologie, Etsy and Real Simple have profiles.
Pinterest is the largest of the three with 110,000 visitors a month, according to Google Analytics. Svpply, from Boston, recently raised $550,000 from Spark Capital and angel investors, including Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley. TheFancy is the creation of venture-backed New York start-up ThingD.
ThisNext, which also owns StyleHive, recently got a redesign and new management to make it more competitive. The four-and-a-half-year-old company will be profitable this summer, promised new chief executive officer Matt Edelman. Headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., it is one of the largest of the product bookmarking sites with 620,000 monthly visitors, according to Google Analytics.
Competitors include Hearst Corp.’s Kaboodle and Time Inc.’s StyleFeeder.
Technically, Polyvore is also a bookmarking site, but it is also much more than that. Users create and share collages of fashion and beauty photos they find on the site and around the Web. Polyvore became profitable last year, said company co-founder and ceo Pasha Sadri, and it gets 1.1 million visitors a month, according to Google Analytics. Its revenue comes chiefly from holding contests with brands, rather than from display advertising alone, a strategy that other new-media fashion sites such as Chictopia and Refinery29 are also finding is paying off.
One of the common criticisms of sites such as ThisNext and Polyvore is that users like to play with the images, but they don’t often click through and buy. In other words, they are just window shopping.
Not necessarily, said Helen Zhu, founder of outfit-sharing community Chictopia. If a brand is already popular on Chictopia (as evidenced by how often items from the brand appear in member photos), an integrated ad campaign with a contest, giveaways, display ads and other content and activities will prompt many users to pull out their wallets and buy. For brands that are not already popular in the community, a campaign will generate clicks and exposure rather than purchases, she said.
“Brands want a better way to reach out to fashion influencers besides just editors,” she confided over lunch at one of her favorite spots, a crowded Indian buffet near her office in downtown San Francisco. “It’s just like being friends with someone in real life. It’s a long-term relationship. You wouldn’t necessarily ask someone you just met to buy something from you.”