Monday, June 10, 2013

Is Pinterest the Last Big Web-First Internet Company?

In a recent interview with Liz Gannes, Evan Sharp, co founder of Pinterest, theorized that the website, which allows users to save and organize photos/websites on digital idea boards, will be the final web-first Intenet start up company. As mobile devices like smart phones and tablets are becoming increasingly popular, so are the apps these devices use. For Pinterest, it took less than twenty-four hours for its app traffic to surpass its web traffic upon the app's arrival into mobile app stores. After seeing the successes of mobile-first companies like Instragram and WhatsApp, many web-first Internet giants like Facebook, Tumblr, Pandora, and Groupon have also made the leap to having fully functional apps and they, too, experience their highest rates of traffic volume on mobile devices over the use of traditional web browsers.

However, also Gannes offers several opposing views on Sharp's theory. Analyst Andrew Lipsman suggests, "The key distinction may be that companies in the past started on the Web or mobile, and now they don't have a choice. 'I still think there will be emergent companies where desktop will drive the majority of the activity, but its probably the case that companies of tomorrow will have to develop for a multi-platform environment from the outset.'"

Perhaps part of the success that these companies have experienced on the smart mobile devices is due in part to to what Gannes calls "a matter of usage." She quotes Sharp saying, "'The phone is for down moments in the cadence of everyday life'.... whereas Pinterest users have a notable tendency to spend longer periods of time with the tablet app late at night." By tracking these Internet consumer usage patterns, app designers are better able to create a more seamless interface for users, changing the design slightly from tablet to phone.

Although Gannes' article did not dive into the specifics of Sharp's theory, I do find it an interesting one. As the owner of a laptop, (office) desktop, smart phone, and iPad, as well as a semi-devoted Pinterest user, I definitely see myself falling into the categories of users Sharp mentioned. When I'm bored between meetings at work and don't have enough time to accomplish any meaningful tasks, I usually pop open my phone to surf Pinterest.  I also often flip mindlessly through the thousands of pretty pins on a main page (pictured below) at the end of the day when I need time to veg after a rough day.

However, as to whether or not Pinerest will be the last web-first Internet start up, I must say I am as skeptical as Lipsman is. While we are "sandwiched" between desktop Internet and mobile-eras, as Gannes suggests, I don't know that we are so far beyond the desktop era that web-based start ups will cease to exist. Rather, I agree with the theory that in order for businesses of the future, be they banks, stores, or service-related, will need to function well on multiple platforms. Even Instragram, mentioned above, started as a mobile-first app, but now has a website that allows users to view their pictures online where as the company didn't originally support pictures and profile views outside of its own app on a smart phone or tablet. Despite Sharp's predictions, the only way I see web-first companies growing extinct anytime within the near future is when the desktop/laptop itself is taken over permanently by mobile devices.

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