Love it, Fancy it or Pin it? Rivals Start to Challenge Pinterest

Just two years ago if you had pitched a startup idea like Pinterest to investors they would have asked why you think anyone would want it. Today nobody asks who wants a visual social platform but they will ask what you do that's different. In this scenario it is no surprise that there are rivals coming to market, each with its own twist on the basic formula.

At least two of these rivals already have a usable product available for testing so we can compare them with Pinterest: Fancy, open for public beta testing, and Loveit, still in private beta. Both are conceptually so similar to the original that any Pinterest user can sign up and start "fancying" or "loving it" immediately without looking at the help page. At the same time both also have some interesting features that differentiate them from Pinterest.

Fancy appears to be designed from the outset to support businesses, who can offer special deals to users who "fancy" their products and other partnership opportunities -- like the option to book a hotel related to the image. Fancy combines this brand-friendly approach with an element of gamification, giving users badges like "Senior Womens Stylist" to people who "fancy" more than 150 items in that category. This builds an influence metric into the fabric of the site which in turn enables better merchant deal features.

Loveit takes a different approach, offering better ways to manage their collections and allowing users to have private collections or collections curated by groups of users. Loveit also emphasizes discovery features, using an image recommendation engine to suggest things and users that could interest you.

Both sites have both an intuitive interface and a clean graphic style.  Loveit  follows the normal Pinterest-like page layout while Fancy shows fewer but larger images, as though it were aiming more at mobile use. They also have some issues with the brand name: "fancy" and "love it" are common terms that are harder to google than the invented word Pinterest. Fancy does not even have the "fancy.com" domain name so they are obliged to use "thefancy.com", which is hard to remember and every time I end up on another site. More people should read my 2011 post about Googleable brand names: Branding in the Age of Search Engines: Practical Guidelines for Professionals, Startups, Businesses

Fancy, Loveit or any other visual platforms are not likely to replace Pinterest in the same way that Facebook replaced Myspace or that Google replaced Altavista. When Facebook replaced Myspace it wasn't that people dropped the older site and moved their things to the new one; in most cases new users adopted Facebook until it became the place to be. When Google replaced Altavista users could simply switch from one to the other since they had no "investment" to lose. Users who already have hundreds of pins, likes, comments and followers on Pinterest are less likely to be motivated to change, and the dominant users are not teenagers, so there is no yearly turnover of new users to drive a shift.

What seems more likely is that neither company really expects to replace Pinterest. I wonder if their goal is to be acquired by Facebook, Google or another major player, either for their knowhow or their talent. To counter the growing threat from Pinterest the leading social media platforms will need to add similar capabilities. Buying a working system could be a short cut that eliminates the need to roll out untested products to a highly-critical customer base. Perhaps even Pinterest itself could be a buyer, looking to add new algorithms, new talent and at the same time to keep these companies out of the hands of Facebook and Google.

In the near future what is more likely to happen is that Pinterest will quickly adopt their unique features, blunting their advantage, so ultimately the people who gain the most from the new sites could actually be Pinterest users. Look at how much Facebook was improved in the wake of the Google+ launch in the summer of 2011. I suspect that we will see something similar happen to Pinterest. These are going to be interesting times for visual platforms.


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