Pinterest’s camera search tool, Lens, is getting a makeover today with some updated including the ability to zoom in and out and tap to focus, and making it easier to search with Lens from photos they’ve already taken.
Lens is very much a move to try to collapse the distance between the experience within Pinterest the app (or site) and the real world. Users point their camera at something and are looking for some additional information for it — such as a price tag, where to buy it, or what they can do with it. Many of Pinterest’s recent product updates are geared toward inching users closer and closer to that “do” moment. If it can get a user there organically, it can give advertisers a window into user behavior that they might not get on Facebook or Google.
By making Lens seem more and more like typical camera apps — say, Snap or just the camera app — Pinterest seems like it’s trying to make it fit more into the norms and behavior that you’d find in those other apps. And that’s not necessarily bad: these apps have been refined over many, many years and settled on a user experience that seems to stick with people. Dropping that friction and making Lens more appealing is low-hanging fruit for Pinterest.
Pinterest earlier this month said it raised $150 million at a $12.3 billion valuation. There wasn’t a major jump in valuation here, but that really has to do more with the expectations that were set in 2015 against the reality of running a new kind of advertising business that’s going up against Facebook and Google. The actual user growth and reported revenue numbers came short of what some leaked projections showed, implying that Pinterest had more to do if it were to meet a loftier valuation.
To be sure, it’s trying to do that, and Lens is a big part of that. Pinterest said that the financing round was geared toward improving its visual search technology. Pinterest’s visual search tools went from a moonlight project dovetailing on improvements in visual recognition algorithms — and the proliferation of GPUs — to being one of its primary pitches toward advertisers. That technology will soon be applied to its advertisements as well, lining up branded content against other kinds of Pins that are called up with its visual search tools and not just keywords.
It’ll still be an uphill battle. Pinterest’s pitch to advertisers may be getting increasingly difficult now that Snap’s stock price is getting clobbered. Pinterest is supposed to be a new generation of advertising that taps into the kind of user behavior that you don’t see on Facebook — following a user from all points of the buying cycle, from discovering something to eventually buying it. But it needs to make that jump from experiment to mainstay for brands. That’s going to come in the form of better advertising products, but it’s also going to come in the form of refining products that Pinterest can demonstrate magnify that opportunity for brands.