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Hands-on Assignment #3

What!s so Pinteresting? - A Virtual Ethnography on Pinterest
Why Pinterest?
Pinterest is an emerging social media site which allow users to collect and share
visual bookmarks based on personal interests and hobbies. Modeled after the idea of a
tactile “pin board”, users (“pinners”) post images (“pins”) which often link to an external
site or resource. Pinners can organize their pins to “boards” which are categorized
according to either prescribed or user-created themes such as fashion, recipes, home
decor, “Geek”, and humour. Like Twitter and Facebook, pinners can “follow” each other
based on similar interests and communicate with others through “re-pins”, “likes” or
commenting on pins. In their own words, the goal of the site is to “connect everyone in
the world through the #things! they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or
recipe can reveal a common link between two people.” (
Pinterest has acquired over 70 million users (Smith, 2014) since it!s inception in
March 2010 making it the fastest growing social network (Gilbert et al). As the
community grew, Pinterest developers noticed the influx of pedagogical resources that
were being pinned by it!s users. This resulted in them creating dedicated Pinterest
Education and Pinterest for Teachers places within the site. As a pinner myself,
Pinterest is the first place I go when planning a new unit for my middle-school students.
I chose Pinterest for this virtual ethnographic study because I see it!s innate affordances
for teacher professional development and collaboration.
The Study
I conducted this study as an active participant observer (Gay, Mills & Airasian,
2009) for 30-minute periods over 5 days between March 8 - 12, 2014. Throughout these
5 days, I maintained the status quo of what I would typically pin and my number of
followers and followees while I explored the following questions during my observations:
1) What are the major demographics of Pinterest? (Gender, teachers and grade
2) What are the implicit rules of behaviour or cultural norms within the Pinterest
3) How do pinners communicate in this highly visual medium?
Observations and Key Findings
Of my current 122 followers, only 12 pinners are male. This coincides similarly
with data which reports that 83% of Pinterest!s global users are women (Wikipedia,
2014). 48 of these 122 followers are Kindergarten to Grade 9 teachers and use
Pinterest for both personal and pedagogical purposes. Services Canada reports that
87.3% of all Kindergarten and Elementary teachers in Canada are women (2013).
Through observing the profiles of pinners who have pinned on both my personal feed
and on the Pinterest Education site, I have noticed that Pinterest!s demographic
concurs with this data.
In my observations, pinners seem to follow “Pinterest Etiquette” quite closely. On
their site, Pinterest asks users to follow 5 simple rules while using their site: Be
respectful, Be yourself, Give credit, Stay alert, and Let us know (
basics). This is apparent in the positive and amicable tone of the site as well as in the
public appropriateness of the content being pinned. Hall and Zarro (2012) define sites
like Pinterest as “social curation sites” which see users “combine social media features,
such as sharing, liking, commenting and following, with collecting capabilities like
creation and curation.” (p. 2) As “social curators”, pinners use these features as they
seek to contribute to their community and seek social validation from their followers.
During my five 30-minute observation periods on the Pinterest Education site,
approximately 30-50 news pins or repins we shared each time. These pins covered a
wide range of topics such as worksheet templates, arts and crafts projects, educational
technologies, and classroom organization. They also represented content in various
languages (English, French, Spanish, and German). By pinning a resource, the pinner
communicates to their community that not only is this resource applicable to
themselves, but that it might be useful to others. Followers often repin a pin that they
have found interesting, validating the previous pinners choice in content to share and
demonstrating that is it also useful to them. The repin is the most common action of
pinners. “This shows that reposting content from others --here, repinning-- is a first class
activity[...]” (Gilbert et al., 2013)
The next most common action is a “like”. By clicking a heart-shaped button, a
pinner is, again, validating the content shared, but by not repinning it, communicates
that the content is not pertinent to their likes, needs or subjects of their existing boards.
Commenting on pins is the least popular action on Pinterest. In the rare occasion that
pinners to comment, it is to share a personal anecdote based on the content of the pin,
but rarely to engage in a dialogue. Despite having a platform designed for comments of
up to 500 characters, pinners opt to communicate through other actions.
Through my series of observations, it can be concluded that the Pinterest
Education community is mainly female Elementary school teachers. The cultural norms
present in this community involve communicating through social media features such as
pinning, repinning, liking and commenting. While pinners seek out the validation and
approval of their community through the use of these features, the tone of community is
positive, and one which encourages professional development through it!s innate
collaborative features. “Pinterest asks that users be respectful of individual tastes and
despite a rapid population increase it seems that civility still reigns.” (Hall & Zarro, p.7)
In this highly visual platform, pinners are not affected by a language barrier as they
communicate through common, community specific actions.
In conclusion, I was interested in exploring why Pinterest has been such a
successful platform for sharing, and specifically for collaboration amongst teachers and
educators. In a profession that is typically highly verbal and text-driven, it is interesting
to see how Pinterest users enculturate to the affordances of the virtual community in
order to engage in positive and collaborative professional development.
Gay, L. R., Mills, G.E., & Airasian, P.W. (2009). Educational research: Competencies for
analysis and application (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Gilbert, E., Bakshi, S., Chang, S., Terveen, L. (2013) I need to try this: a statistical
overview of Pinterest. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
computing systems. Georgia Institute of Technology
Hall, C., Zarro, M. (2012). Social curation on the Website Proceedings of
the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 49(1): 1-9.
Service Canada. “Elementary School and Kindergarten Teachers.” Government of
Canada, September 3, 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
Smith, Craig. “By the Numbers: 59 Amazing Pinterest Stats”. Digital Marketing
Ramblings, March 4, 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.
Wikipedia. “Pinterest”. Retrieved March 14, 2014 from