In a pair of articles at GigaOM, David Galbraith shares some lessons from building Wists, a visual bookmarking site that was a precursor to Pinterest. In part one, he describes how the site came about:
I get too much credit for RSS and for Yelp, but the one thing that I can unashamedly claim to have invented is visual bookmarking, and more specifically the “choose images to thumbnail via a bookmarklet” method that Pinterest is based on. It’s not much of an “invention” per se. It’s a moronically simple thing, but it’s the right moronically simple thing. And given that more than one billion dollars rests on the idea, maybe it’s worth looking back at its history.
In part two, he talks about the rise of grid sites:
Although a seemingly trivial distinction, grid sites have their distinct advantages and disadvantages over linear ones. They look pretty, but require scanning in two directions. This is not good for news, where you need to understand the timeline at a glance. However, for scanning thumbnails, a grid is particularly efficient. But even then, the success of such image-rich sites as Tumblr made people think that the river worked for everything. I suspect the key UX component of Tumblr’s success is the ease of sharing or reblogging. Also, in such a heterogeneous text/image environment, you can’t just have a grid.
I disagree strenuously with David about the importance and utility of grids for visual sites…using Pinterest for more than a few seconds makes me want to smash things.