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Originally published March 16, 2012 at 5:59 PM | Page modified March 18, 2012 at 1:49 PM

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Online pinboard draws a crowd

A tiny Palo Alto, Calif., company has created the latest Internet craze.

Special to The Seattle Times

How to get started

1. Request an "invite" on the Pinterest home page (pinterest.com) or ask a current member to invite you.

2. When you receive the invitation, register via Facebook Connect or connect through Twitter.

3. Once on the site, browse through pinboards and repin the images you like to your own pinboards.

4. Add new pinboards by clicking on the Add menu on the top right of the screen and then choosing "Create a Board".

5. Enable pinning from the Web by clicking on the Add menu and then clicking on the words "Pin It' button" and following the instructions.

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A tiny Palo Alto, Calif., company has created the latest Internet craze.

It's called Pinterest, a website where users collect and share images, organizing them into categories such as food, fashion, craft ideas and wedding plans. Photos range from gorgeous travel vistas to quirky panda-face sushi shots to fascinating infographics. Hunky actors, high fashion, inspirational sayings and cute baby animals also have found their way to Pinterest.

Using the site is a bit like scrapbooking online and, according to the Internet tracking firm comScore, nearly 70 percent of its users are women.

Membership on the website currently is by invitation only and requires a Twitter or Facebook profile to create an account. Users can request an invitation from the site, or join through a current user's invitation.

Once on the website, Pinterest members will find waiting for them some empty pre-named pinboards, such as Favorite Places & Spaces and My Style. It's easy to browse others' Pinboards by entering a word into the search box, such as "Spring Dresses."

From there, members can scroll through images and repin ones they like to their own boards by hovering over the image with the mouse and clicking on the repin button.

Members can also grab images from the Web. A Pin It button can be installed on their Web browser's bookmarks bar, so when they see an image they like on the Web, they can click on the button to add the image to their board.

The source information automatically attaches to the image so viewers can track down a product they want, or follow a blog they've just been introduced to.

Some members use the pinboards to collect ideas for a project such as a wedding or remodel.

A bride can pin images of different bridesmaids' dresses or bouquet designs and solicit feedback. Interior decorators can collect ideas for a client to review. Home gardeners can mull over planting ideas and gluten-free chefs can gather recipes.

Indeed, much of Pinterest seems aspirational. The boards focus on "what I'm going to cook," "where I want to go" or "how I want to decorate" — a contrast to Twitter and Facebook's focus on what the user is thinking, feeling or doing at the moment.

Some pinners use the boards for encouragement to excel at sports or stick to a diet. Many just collect beautiful images or funny sayings.

Marianne Allison, of Portland, who has pinned more than 1,000 images and curates a board of owl images, says Pinterest falls somewhere between window shopping and actual collecting, with benefits over both.

"I don't want an actual collection of owls and owl pics! ... But it's fun to post," she said.

Having the collection on a board she can revisit is more satisfying than just seeing it in a shop window.

Allison likens Pinterest to virtual hoarding because users can collect and save as many things as they want but don't need space to store them.

Members can create and curate multiple pinboards in any category and follow others' pinboards. They can also add a comment to any pinned image.

In contrast to Facebook posters, Pinterest pinners may end up choosing to follow people they don't know purely based on the photos they curate.

So far, Pinterest has attracted nearly 18 million members, according to the research firm comScore. All pinboards are public now, but the company is considering implementing private boards at a later date.

Retailers are catching Pinterest fever as well. Little One Books, a Seattle-based online store that sells books, music, videos and art prints for children, uses Pinterest to group and visually display items for potential buyers.

"At first we just thought we would just put our products on it," said Joan McCoy, president of Little One Books, "but every day we seem to find a new angle and creative ways to display information for our age group [birth to 5 years old]," including craft ideas and mommy blogs.

Pinterest hasn't decided the best way to make money.

Right now the company says it is concentrating on adding users to its free site and is exploring different revenue opportunities, such as selling advertising space or charging retailers when users click on links to purchase items.

Any photo can have a price attached to the top corner and will then appear in the Gift section of the website.

Pinterest is available on smartphones, and users can also choose to display pinned images in their Facebook Timeline. Bloggers, craftspeople and others can add a customizable "Pin It" button to their own website to allow visitors to pin a specific image to their pinboards.

The company wants Pinterest to be a positive place and does not allow pornography or hateful content, but there are a number of racy and nearly nude photos on the site. Users can report an offensive pin by clicking on the small report button on the right of the image and Pinterest will review and remove if necessary.

Pinterest also instructs members not to use images that violate copyright laws, but many do use images they don't have official rights to.

While some image owners enjoy the publicity they get from the display of their photos and products, others do not.

Professional photographers and other image owners who want the website to remove something they believe violates their copyright, can fill out a form on the Pinterest site.

For those who don't want anything pinned from their website, Pinterest offers a bit of code that doesn't allow pinning.

Although it is partnered with Facebook, pinning may become that website's next great rival for people's time.

Jeannine Chanin-Penn, of Los Angeles, started using Pinterest to gather ideas for her work as an event planner, and says she's discovered new blogs and websites that have become favorites. Pinterest has also become a creative outlet of self-expression.

"I can fall very long and hard in the Pinterest rabbit hole when I really get going!" she said.

Julie Weed is a free-lance writer in Seattle.

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