Why Pinterest is holding off on a more inclusive API strategy

Editor's Corner

Shane Schick

You can call Pinterest many things--a social networking service, an image database, a haven for digital scrapbookers--but you can't yet call it a platform.

When news came out that the company was about to release it first major API, developers may have expected they would have new opportunities for apps and games that leverage Pinterest's vast audience of consumers who "pin" items to digital "boards" based on various interests. Instead, however, the API that came out offers little more than widget-making, and will be handed out in piecemeal fashion to major brands such as Elle, AllRecipes and others. These firms will be able to easily create Pinterest buttons for their websites, which means the move is effectively a way for Pinterest to increase its addressable audience, much in the way Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) did by offering up the "like" and "G+" icons several years ago. It's about taking the "pinning" experience and moving it beyond Pinterest itself.

If anything, this should prime the pump for even greater interest among app developers, who I assume might initially have been disappointed by the relatively stingy capabilities in the API. Take Tailwind (formerly PinLeague), which offers an app to help marketers track the analytics around their Twitter-related activities. In a blog post, Marketing Manager Melissa Megginson reacted as follows:

"While the announcement of Pinterest's very first API doesn't directly affect third party apps (like us) at the moment, there are many positive implications for the future. The release of the Pinterest API to high quality brands proves that the already amazing ecosystem built around the platform is continuing to grow. For now, we're just excited for continued announcements and to see the impact of initial tests of the Pinterest API."

You can't beat this kind of positive outlook, but Pinterest is taking it one step further by making its requirements for use of the existing API readily available to others outside its chosen list of partners. If you show mockups and plans that impress them, you get access. Even a cursory glance at this kind of information will put developers in a more knowledgeable position if and when Pinterest decides to expand its API strategy. (Which I think it will, by the way. I can see plenty of opportunities for apps that manage pins, pin-matching games, in-pin apps and so on.)

For once, indie developers could be at the forefront of this curve, creating apps and games that gel with Pinterest's philosophy, before there's a Twitter-style clampdown. They could be quicker to adapt to the service's customers and stand out from the inevitable crowd of me-too games that are beginning to clutter up Facebook. They could have a business strategy in place that could prove it's not just big brands that deserve all the attention. This is a service in which pinning something is a sort of compliment. If they want a piece of the future API action, developers need to start showing they're stuck on Pinterest. -Shane