The One Problem Pinterest Desperately Needs to Solve

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I would like to be able to click through this link and check out this app, but Pinterest won't let me.

pinterest screenshot

Much to-do has been made recently about Pinterest playing a bit fast and loose with users’ copyrights.

If you haven’t been following this, the story is that a section of Pinterest’s user agreement more or less says that the site reserves the right to sell images that users upload.

This doesn’t make people very happy.

Pinterest recently sort-of addressed this by creating a “nopin” meta tag to allow the owners of other sites to, in effect, opt-out of allowing users to pin images from their sites. Webmasters can implement this by adding a little snippet of code to the header of their websites, like so:

<meta name="pinterest" content="nopin" />

Photo sharing site Flickr quickly enabled this feature on all copyrighted images on their site and I’m sure we’ll see more sites follow suit in the coming weeks and months.

But it gets worse…

There is a related issue that is not only lousy from a legal standpoint but also dramatically affects user experience.

As you probably know by now, in addition to allowing users to upload images or “pin” items on the site directly, Pinterest also allows users to pin images using a browser bookmarklet from any site on the internet. This includes sites that require logins to access.

If you’ve spent much time on Pinterest and actually clicked through on any number of pins to the source of that pin, you’ve likely been at least occasionally frustrated to click on a link like, say, this one or this one only to land on a page that requires a login to access or the dashboard of a Tumblr page (which is, for those who don’t use tumblr, only available to the logged in user who blogged this image in the first place).

This is not only really annoying for users, but I think it could become a huge stumbling block for Pinterest as it tries to find a viable business model.

If Pinterest is really going to become the social commerce driver that many predict, then these pins that don’t link to the original source of the product/image will be nearly impossible to monetize. If I can’t click on a pin, land on the product page or source image and then buy the product or service that I’m looking for, then I’m annoyed and no one makes any money.

And that’s really bad news.

I don’t have a great solution to this problem (other than asking people to politely think before they pin), but one possible technical solution that occurred to me is using something like the rel=”canonical” attribute to specify the original source of an image so that Pinterest would know to pin THAT version of an image rather than whatever copies of the same image may appear elsewhere on the web.

There are some problems with this solution – how would Pinterest know, for example, which site to link to for a common product that can be purchased from any number of sites on the web? But I think they COULD at least check to see if the page an image is pinned from requires a login to view or if it links to another (hopefully original) source for that image or product.

Even this level of checking would go a long way to providing proper attribution for an image while also addressing some of the poor user-experience that is created as a result of the current system.

In any case, this is something that Pinterest will need to figure out (and hopefully soon) if it’s really going to crack this whole social commerce thing.

What do you think? Does this annoy you too? Can you think of any other potential solutions?