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Why Pinterest Deserves The Spotlight

CEO Ben Silbermann is changing the way we think about visual search, and the future.

Why Pinterest Deserves The Spotlight

I am often asked how we choose who goes on Fast Company‘s cover. Why Kevin Durant or Shonda Rhimes? Why Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya or Microsoft’s Satya Nadella?

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Our process is a complicated, often torturous one. We don’t make these decisions casually. Our specific parameters move over time, as market conditions do and to reflect the larger world around us. Yet our choices are also anchored by overarching editorial themes and our mission: to both prepare readers for the future and encourage them to shape that future.

What does that mean, practically? I’m going to share one specific example, using our newest cover story, about Pinterest. As you’ll see, many factors impact the decision.


Related: Pinterest Sees The Future


I’ve been personally fascinated by Pinterest for several years. It is part social network, like Facebook; part visual, like Instagram; there is a discovery component, like Google; and its business model involves both e-commerce and ad-supported media. That means Pinterest’s story can offer insights for multiple industries and varied companies. Plus, as one of Silicon Valley’s unicorns, Pinterest represents a group that has been much-lauded but are under increasing pressure as they assume leading roles in business and in culture. Exploring the reality of these entities, as separate from either the hype or the derision, is particularly timely right now.

Pinterest has also, in my judgment, often been underappreciated by the business press. Some of that has to do with the reticence of its founding CEO, Ben Silbermann, to act as a Jobsian showman. But I also think it’s because Pinterest’s core customers, initially, were stereotyped as middle-America moms, as opposed to Brooklyn hipsters or college students—a community that media watchers can be unfairly dismissive about. While the customer base has expanded dramatically, and globally, since then, that beginning has kept Pinterest mostly out of the spotlight.

Then, of course, there’s the story itself: Pinterest has ambitions to redefine the world of search, by applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to the nascent domain of visual search, looking beyond text (and even voice) to enable people to use images and photos—or simply a camera lens—to unlock information. Despite far fewer resources than competitors, Silbermann’s team (which includes a star talent poached from Google, a woman named Li Fan) has made significant strides and brought a preliminary product to market, via a feature called Lens. Whether or not Pinterest ultimately dominates the future of visual search, its efforts offer a compelling way for us to introduce our readers to a field that we think will be increasingly important.

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I hope you’re starting to see the appeal, the varied motivations that all line up around this story. There’s more too. Underneath the characters, the unicorns, the technology, is an emotional lesson about the world of tomorrow. We have experienced so much change in the last 20 years, even the last five years, that it can be dizzying. New companies arising, new tools proliferating, computing and connectivity costs plummeting—it can make you want to pause for a breath, just to absorb it all. But here’s what we believe: This wave of change is only beginning. And so as hard as it is for us to accept, we have to prepare ourselves for a whole lot more. By writing about Pinterest and its forays into visual search, we are sending an underlying message: That we all need to keep on our toes, that the consequences—intended and otherwise—of the transformation under way globally are only beginning to be felt.

So what will be on our next cover? Which messages will we be trying to amplify, and who will represent them? I hope you keep coming by to find out. We’re working on some fascinating possibilities, though nothing is set in stone. Because our world isn’t set in stone. We’ll figure it out together as we go.

About the author

Robert Safian is editor and managing director of the award-winning monthly business magazine Fast Company. He oversees all editorial operations, in print and online, and plays a key role in guiding the magazine's advertising, marketing, and circulation efforts.

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