Is Pinterest’s Latest Update an Attempt to Transform Visual Search?

Pinterest update

What comes to mind when you think about online search? Probably Google or Facebook.

But what about Pinterest?

You might be surprised to hear that Pinterest is updating their image and their platform by tossing their hat into the ring for consideration as a serious player in search. That seems like a big leap for the DIY darling of the social media world until you start seeing facts like these:

  • Millennials use Pinterest as much as they use Instagram
  • Pinterest has influenced 87% of people to make purchases
  • 84% of people access Pinterest from multiple devices

In 2012, Pinterest became the fastest standalone website in history to reach 10 million unique monthly visitors. Now, they host more than 150 million active monthly users. With numbers like this, it’s easy to see how Pinterest just might be an even bigger player in 2018.

Challenging Facebook AND Google

Pinterest wants to redefine the search world using just a camera lens and a mobile screen. It’s all about the visuals with Pinterest, and in a search space that’s dominated by Google and Facebook, the successful startup believes there is a unique discovery component to their business model that makes them a powerful platform.

Discovery on Pinterest

In February, a new Pinterest update was announced in the form of a visual discovery tool called Lens. It works by letting people use their camera within the Pinterest app “to discover ideas inspired by objects you see out in the real world.” For example, if you saw a gorgeous cardigan at the mall that you loved but couldn’t afford, you could point Lens at the cardigan, tap the screen, and pins with similar items pop up on your screen.

When Pinterest updated to add Lens, it demonstrated their vision of helping people search for inspiration using images from their own devices without the use of text. Li Fan—head of engineering at Pinterest—thinks that their massive data set will allow the company to provide a visual search function that leverages inspiration, rather than a perfectly matched answer, like Google or Facebook. Google is currently testing a related searches box in Google Image search that indicates they are focusing more and more on intent-based search.

For example, if you search for “men’s grey high top converse” on Google you’ll get the following results:

A Pinterest update that's focused on search


If you search the same thing in Pinterest, this is what your results look like:

A Pinterest update focused on search


The first thing you might notice is that Google is very literal. Your search results show exactly what you searched for; a variety of converse products, sellers, and prices. Pinterest is much more aspirational. Search results include style tips, ideas on colors and shoe styles, and even articles on converse shoes.

Leading the drive on Pinterest’s search front is a 12-person computer vision team that’s hard at work trying to anticipate and provide solutions to the future of visual AI. While the size and influence of Pinterest pales in comparison to Google and Facebook—who are also competing in the visual AI space—Pinterest believes they are perfectly positioned to win the race because they own one of the world’s largest visual data sets. This allows their algorithms to learn and improve faster.

What makes this data even more valuable is the fact that Pinterest’s own users have self-labeled each piece of content. This makes it simpler for algorithms to understand how users think and what type of content they want to see in search results.

A Pinterest Update Worth Facebooking About

Messaging apps have been a hot topic of late and it appears the discussion has squarely placed Pinterest in the news. On December 5, 2017, Pinterest launched a new chat extension and a bot that both integrate with Facebook’s Messenger app.

According to Pinterest engineering manager Hayder Casey, the new chat extension will “…make it simpler to share Pins and collaborate with family and friends directly from Messenger.” It accomplishes that by allowing users in Messenger to share pins without ever leaving the Messenger app.

Here’s how it works.

Once you’re in the Messenger app, click the “Get Started” button and the Pinterest bot jumps into action:

A Pinterest update focused on search


Then, open any conversation in the Messenger app and click the “+” button:

A Pinterest update focused on search


Next, click the Pinterest icon button:

A Pinterest update focused on search


Then enter your search term in the search bar:

A Pinterest update focused on search


Select THE most adorable puppy pin ever:

A Pinterest update focused on search


Finally, click “Send in Messenger” and you’re done:

A Pinterest update focused on search


There you have it. Now you can share as many adorable puppy pins as you want on Facebook Messenger.

Going Public in 2018?

The rumor mill is churning and recent Pinterest news indicates they may be preparing for an IPO that could come as soon as 2018. With new products being released and extensive research and development in the works, an influx of funding would be greatly welcomed by the young tech company.

Not that they’re hurting for funds. In 2016, Pinterest reported $300 million in revenue and are now projecting a 67% increase to $500+ million in 2017. Business is good and the social media powerhouse is now valued at $12.3 billion.


Thanks to a fiercely loyal user base and an expanding demographic of users, Pinterest is well positioned to develop new updates and features while capturing additional market share. With a large portion of Pinterest’s focus on monetizing their platform, you can expect to see the number of interested investors skyrocket. While it remains to be seen how effective Pinterest will be in their battle with Google and Facebook for visual AI search, it is clear they are a force to be reckoned with and will continue to affect industry changes in 2018.