The rise of Pinterest wasn’t all cocktails and cupcakes. It conquered huge scaling challenges to become the world’s keepsake box. Now as the we ditch the desktop for mobile, how will Pinterest evolve to connect us with the things we love? Pinterest’s head of engineering Jon Jenkins gave a surprisingly candid look at the past and future of Pinterest journey to build the interest graph.
Now Pinterest is a team of 140, with 70 engineers, $338 million in funding, and a massive headquarters in San Francisco. But at the start, it was just the three co-founders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp, Paul Sciarra, and a single engineer.
2010: “The Year Of The Creation Of The Business”
Pinterest began as a few guys with a mission “To help people discover the things they love and then do those things in real life. With only one engineer, it was almost lucky that Pinterest didn’t become popular yet or the whole thing could have come crashing down.
2011: “The Year Of Scaling Challenges”
Jenkins says that “traffic was doubling every month and half” and provided this traffic graph, though with no Y axis about exactly how many page views the site receives. He explained that the site wasn’t exactly built to last at first. “It was originally written in Python, but when you build a website [for a small user base] you don’t think about modularity very much. And when a million people show up on your door step you’re just trying to keep the thing from falling down.”
2012: “The Big Year Of Mobile”
In August it released new versions of its iOS and Android apps that would serve as the modernized foundation of the future of its business on the small screen. Pinterest began learning how people used the service differently depending on their device. For example, in the daytime it sees a lot of phone use as people try to discover new things. They might walk around the grocery store with a recipe pin open on their phone to help them find ingredients. “Then in the evening we see tablet usage increase significantly as they’re trying to make that recipe” Jenkins says.
2013: “The Year Of Adding A Lot More Value To Pins”
Pinterest this year began showing related pins when you pinned something, and providing pin recommendations via email. It also launched expanded pins so recipes would show ingredients, movies would show reviews, and products would show prices. Most recently, it began using the feed editor to recommend more content to you. With big plans afoot, Pinterest also rewrote its entire site — not to handle traffic, but to let multiple engineers enhance it simultaneously without tripping over each other and causing non-stop bugs. “How can we create modules that let engineers go in and work without screwing over the other developers?” He’s convinced that the new modular Python architecture “will allow the organization to scale.”
Looking forward, Pinterest has five big projects its working on:
Building The Interest Graph: Unlike other social networks, Jenkins says that “Pinterest isn’t fundamentally about connecting people to other people. It’s about connecting people to interests.”
Scaling Big Data: “Figuring out how we’re going to scale the data repositories for pins will only become more complicated as we grow internationally” Jenkins said. That why he says “we’re hiring pretty aggressively” in areas including machine learning, data mining, operations, and infrastructure.
Making Pins More Useful: Expect more pin types to gain expanded information like recipes did. “Useful” could also end up as a euphemism for “buyable”. Pinterest is renowned for driving traffic to ecommerce sites. If it could bring more of the shopping experience inside its site and apps, it could provide value to users while also arguing that it deserves a revenue share or commission from merchants.