Why Pinterest's success on mobile is a double-edged sword

Originally posted on Medium

Last month, Venture Beat reported that 80 percent of Pinterest’s traffic now came from mobile devices.

Great news for Pinterest, right? I’m not so sure.

Pinterest is a product that is fundamentally built for web. A Pin is simply an image link to an external URL where the image lives on.

But as Venture Capitalist Chris Dixon pointed out on his blog, the mobile web is rapidly declining. In fact, time spent on mobile web accounted for only 14% of time spent on mobile in 2014. The other 86% of our time is spent in apps.

This is a worrisome trend for the web. Mobile is the future. What wins mobile, wins the Internet. Right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.

Why should this be especially worrisome for Pinterest? Quite simply, more time on mobile vs. desktop and more time in apps vs. mobile web means an ever decreasing window of time in which users have allocated to source fresh Pins from the treasure trove that is the web.

So while the vast majority of Pinterest traffic has already shifted from desktop to mobile, my intuition is that that the dominant action on mobile is discovery and that fresh Pin creation (not repinning) on mobile still lags behind desktop.

The problem is only compounded by the limitations of mobile web versus desktop. There is only so much real estate on our mobile devices, and often that means share buttons that are so prominent on desktop are poorly positioned when viewed in a mobile web browser.

Without further action from Pinterest, I believe the company risks creating an imbalance in which the proportion of time spent sourcing fresh Pins decreases while the proportion of time spent consuming and repinning increases. And fewer fresh pins means more recycled content. And too much recycled content is never very interesting.

Pinterest needs to figure out how to better enable pin creation in a world that is not only increasingly mobile but increasingly app-driven. Although the company offers an SDK to iOS and Android developers, the implementation nonetheless requires an image URL to actually work, something that is infrequently exposed by app developers.

The future of pin creation in an app-driven world will fundamentally require support of app-based attribution in contrast to URL-based attribution.

What does that mean? It means instead of exclusively supporting Pins from image URLs, Pinterest needs to better work with app developers to attribute the app itself using the app name, icon, custom link, App Store link, etc. as the source of content and enable deep linking to the app whenever a user clicks through a Pin. In essence, enable app metadata as the new URL.

Mobile is the future, we already know that. For Pinterest, this means that an entirely image URL-based Pinning system needs rethinking and, at the very least, means more investment in app developer tools to enable proper attribution and deep linking to content from within native apps. Doing so will almost undoubtedly unlock a whole new treasure trove of mobile app content loudly waiting to be Pinned.