Pinterest as Research Tool

pinterest pix

A screenshot of the Pinterest boards researchers used.

This SportPix study shows that Pinterest can be a powerful research tool, especially in the aggregation, curation and evaluation of photos from multiple venues.   

Working with Pinterest

According to its website, Pinterest is an online pinboard that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Researchers used Pinterest’s “Pin it” button to attach the found photos to “boards” on Pinterest, boards organized by by the events (the Super Bowl or the NCAA Championship) and by categores of activity at the events (Action/Game Play or Halftime or Post-Game, etc.). Throughout the months of this study, researchers pinned thousands of photos to dozens of different boards.

When possible, as they were “pinning,” the researchers “selected” with a mouse the photo caption to the photo that they wanted to pin.  That “selection” then automatically appeared as a “caption” on the Pinterest pin.  When captions were absent or not available to grab (because of formatting issues), researchers selected headlines and other meta-type data, including bylines and datelines.  Researchers’ ability to grab information was idiosyncratic to the individual sites and to the types of pages on those sites; therefore there is no absolute uniformity to what textual information appears on the photo pins.  Viewers of the Pinterest boards will also note odd numbering information in the caption data — those letters and numbers are references for the internal coding system of the researchers.

Benefits of working with Pinterest

A benefit to researchers in using Pinterest was the ease in grabbing and organizing the photos of the games in the 16 news outlets. Also, due to the nature of the “Pin it” button, each pinned photo was also automatically linked back to the original source, providing a high level of accuracy and transparency.

Limitations of working with Pinterest

Researchers did find, however, some significant limitations to using Pinterest — although it should be noted that those limitations did not outweigh the very strong advantages.  In fact this study would not have been possible without the use of Pinterest, or an analogue-type platform.

One limitation of Pinterest’s platform is that while it allows the organization of photos grabbed from various sites to be categorized into (“pinned on”) specific boards, once the photos were pinned to a board they could not be rearranged. This created some problems when organizing photos for coding and analysis.

From the other side, the side of the news outlets, there were also limitations.  Primary among those were that there were discrepancies in what photographs could be “pinned” on the various sites.  Some sites allowed the pinning of thumbnail photos — say in a frontpage teaser to an internal article — while other outlets did not.  A very few sites allowed photos in photo galleries to be pinned, while most only allowed photos that accompanied articles to be pinned.  (Note that specific problems in syncing Pinterest with individual news outlets are recorded on the pages relating to those outlets.  See also the page Pinterest as a Research Tool.)

Additionally when URLs on the originating sites are updated, the links from the Pinterest boards are broken, and as a result it is no longer possible to view the pinned photographs in their original locations.