Bookmarking the internet: How Pocket & Pinterest started and will survive

Just as Google search has made it easy for users to find the right content on the internet, Pocket and Pinterest are letting users organize this content based on their interests. Both of these companies’ missions are to boost the potential of the internet. While their products were enticing, almost romantic, as they came from the early internet period where users and developers shared abundant optimism, I didn’t have a strong understanding of their business models; I only had a vague expectation that advertisement would play an important role, just as it did with Google. In this entry, I wanted to explore how the development of their business models has influenced their products.

How Pocket started and its value propositions

Pocket, as its name suggests, is a service that lets users keep website links and videos in one place. The original idea emerged as the founder, Nate Weiner, needed a system to keep his tutorial links organized in one place; he was teaching a how to program, as well as freelancing.

In 2007, Weiner built a firefox extension, and that was the beginning of Pocket. As he shared it with his friends, he received more feedback, and Pocket added more features by responding to his and his peers’ additional needs. Features like ‘read-offline’ and a sync-cross-browser were added, for example.

Today, the browser extension got much more sophisticated and also available in other browsers. (Source:

In the early days, Weiner made it his goal to embed Pocket in every corner of the internet. The product had to be extremely simple in order to sync data between different platforms. The simplicity of the product and service was also helpful in terms of getting more partners to adopt Pocket. Adapting more interfaces into browsers, Twitter, and other ebook platforms, contributed to later adoption of the tool.

The trigger for its rapid user acquisition was when Pocket was featured on the front-page of Digg. The Pocket mobile app cost $2.99 in the beginning, but they also offered a premium service for $5 per month later on. After that, the trend of free apps with in-app purchases drove Pocket in that direction as well. To justify the subscription, the premium service provided special font styles and dark mode. By 2016, Pocket had 170,000 premium subscribers. However, the profitability of premium subscription alone was not sufficient for further expansion of the company.

Sponsored content introduced once Pocket gained enough trust

In 2017, Pocket introduced sponsored content after 9-years of ad-free services. Pocket initially introduced sponsored content in their regular newsletters to users, and it became as profitable as the premium subscription.

Sponsored content was visible in the ‘recommended’ feed, and it (sponsored content) was sold on a CPM basis for roughly $50 per 1000 impressions as of 2016. When the ‘recommended’ feed was introduced, the new feed had visits from 1/3 of the users, an 8% to 20% click-through rate, and 10% of readers re-shared the posts. Those success metrics were because Pocket spent a long time gaining its users’ trust and developing loyalty to their brand. Another key factor to maximizing the return was waiting for a substantial total user acquisition.

The recommended feed showed visits from ⅓ of users (Source: TechCrunch)

Pocket works from everywhere

Now, Pocket is also available in the Chrome browser. Users just need to click the Save button when they see a page that they want to keep. Users can also press Shift+Command+P to run it as well. The link to get the extension is easily accessible from the top page. They promote the extension as a core of the service. For Pocket to expand its business, it is important for users to be able to add content from everywhere. This high-level utility made Pocket a must-have tool for some users, and helped gain these users’ trust. Trust is an important cog when it comes to running advertisements effectively.

Pinterest is where personal collections inspire others

Since 2009 when Pinterest was founded, the service has been growing steadily, and now Pinterest has over 250 million monthly-active-users. While Pocket is a bookmarking tool mainly for online text pages, Pinterest does a similar job with inspiring photos. Pinterest, however, focuses more on the discovery of new inspirations within the platform. By users categorizing photos into their own unique collections, some can be inspired by others’ selections.

Interestingly, since one of their missions is to inspire people, they want people to go outside and do stuff, instead of trying to keep people online. Pinterest helps users define who they are by providing a tool to organize their favorite photos. Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann says: “I’d always thought that the things you collect say so much about who you are.” Ben says his childhood bug collection was “Pinterest 1.0.”

Pinterest’s early days. Nordstrom first created their Pinterest page in March of 2011(Source: Bryan Naggy dotcom)

The campaign “Pin it forward” was a huge early driver for user acquisitions. In the campaign, each day, 10 or so bloggers posted about their passion, described how they expressed it on Pinterest and introduced the set of bloggers for the next day. With the hype surrounding blogs at the time, the campaign was one of the most successful growth hacks.

As the total amount of users grew, people started using Pinterest in a way that was not anticipated. By having these core fans, they drove more content into the platform. As they grew extremely active, photos in the ecosystem became densely categorized and connected, which helped light users to find better content. In comparison to Pocket, Pinterest adds your content differently.

Bookmarking in Pinterest is more about categorizing your findings

There are 2 main ways to add content onto the platform; users can paste an image URL or upload from their camera. In the mobile app, the upload icon is hidden in the profile tab. Pinterest also released a chrome extension, which works similarly to Pocket’s extension. However, compared to Pocket, Pinterest does not promote users to add content as much. Over-promoting this feature could quickly overcrowd the platform with bad images. As Pinterest needs effective discoverability in the app, the assuring of photo quality is the key for better user experience.

You can add a photo from your desktop.
Pinterest app lets you pin from your camera. You need to access from your profile page.

Since Pinterest introduced its iconic grid style, their UI evolution focuses on showing more related content to what the user is currently looking for. For example, colorful search tags at the top help users find better search words that can look for similar photos. Tags are not only grouped by generic taxonomies; skin-color choices appear with the makeup search, which helps further personalize results.

Beauty search results can be filtered by colors and skin tones

In March 2017, Pinterest added a discovery feature to its existing Chrome extension. Users can easily trigger image searches by clicking a magnifying glass that appears over any image on websites. The search is done with taxonomies like colors, products, and patterns which inspire people to search for more photos through these keywords. Unlike Google’s image search, result photos appear to be branded well in Pinterest.

Pinterest brings its visual search technology to the web (Source: TechCrunch)

The same search tool was introduced to their mobile app as Lens. The Lens feature finds related images from photos from the camera roll or the camera view of a user’s device. Although it runs on different devices, both versions are based on Pinterest’s visual search engine first introduced in November 2015. Visual searches help users to explore more content without needing to find the right word to search with. As one of its interesting applications, Pinterest announced “Shop the Look” partnered with retail brands. In the promotion, people can use Lens to see how other people use a retail item to decorate their rooms; users can explore more attractive items of the line, and series of photos can convince users to purchase items from the link provided from each photo.

Pinterest Lens runs image search through your mobile camera (Source: The Verge)

A shopping site that doesn’t start with a shopping cart

“Pinterest is like your personal stylist. We can give you recommendations for products to buy based on your unique taste and what’s trending, and show you a range of visual ideas.”

While Pocket later introduced the recommended feed to expose more interesting content, which also generated advertisement opportunities, Pinterest focused on content discoverability from the very beginning. With the expanded community with photos densely connected and categorized, Pinterest provided great opportunities for advertisers.

For example, what pingboards users follow or users have created, can guide advertisers to promote more targeted content. In addition, Pinterest’s advertisement is based on the users engagement or action. In contrast to Facebook’s cost-per-click model, advertisers could potentially earn more ROI from Pinterest. Pinterest also helps companies with ad creatives that would ran on the platform through its in-house creative studio, the Pin Factory. Similar to how YouTube facilitates its studio, creatives can have the most effective visuals and descriptions that resonate better with the Pinterest community.

As a Pinterest user, I almost never remember seeing many advertisements. With all the efforts to make ads more effective and seamless with other content, Pinterest does not fill the platform with ads that distract users away from the core experience. It’s an inspiring and fun destination without any pressure to shop, but people end up finding one or two items there, and click on them in order to buy once in a while.

Follow on medium:


Pocket Wants You To Read Ads Later Too | TechCrunch

Inside Pocket: how a startup beat its rivals to build the ‘DVR for everything’ | The Verge

The Story Behind How Pocket Hit 20M Users with 20 People | The Story Behind

Pinterest is turning more of its window shoppers into buyers with newest features

| TechCrunch

Pinterest gets a redesigned feed that looks a lot like Instagram | The Verge

Pinterest reports 25% increase in monthly active users | TechCrunch

Pinterest nears $1 billion in ad sales and valuation rises as it looks to go public in mid-2019 | CNBC

Pinterest brings its visual search technology to the web | TechCrunch

Pinterest now lets you filter search results by skin tone | The Verge

Pinterest’s new feed has just your friends’ pins, and no algorithmic recommendations | The Verge

Pinterest launches colorful Pincodes that link to fashion and food boards | The Verge

Pinterest Pins Its Hopes On International Growth, Starts Out With Localizing ‘Pin It Forward’ Campaign To Drive More U.K. Posts | TechCrunch

An Inside Look at Pinterest’s Business Model | Investopedia

Pinterest CEO: Here’s How We Became The Web’s Next Big Thing [DECK] | Business Insider

Pinterest introduces Lens, a Shazam for objects in the real world | The Verge

Pocket | UX Archives

Pocket | Crunchbase

Pinterest | Crunchbase

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