Thanks to an invitation from @SciChem_, I got a Pinterest account yesterday and tried it out.
I wasn't hoping that Pinterest would be a good substitute for formal reference-management programs like Mendeley or Endnote. Instead I was looking for a way to remind myself about research papers that might be important or useful for specific projects - an electronic improvement on printing out pdfs and spreading them all over the floor of my office. Bottom line: it's not very flexible but still might be useful.
It's very easy to use. You open an account (you can ask me for an invitation), create one or more blank 'boards', and drag a 'Pin it' button to the bookmarks bar of your browser. Then, whenever you see an online image you'd like to remember, you click the button. This brings up a little a Pinterest window that lets you identify which of the images on the page you want to put on your board, and what text you want to appear below the image. Here's the Pinterest board I created for recent papers about the molecular motors associated with Type 4 pili.
One difficulty is that Pinterest only recognizes images on web pages. For most papers that's not a problem, you just open the html view, click the button and decide which figure you want on your board. But this strategy didn't work for PLoS papers (at least not PLoS Biology), since their html files don't contain anything that Pinterest can recognize as a suitable image. Instead their figures are represented by thumbnails linked to large figures that Pinterest doesn't see. I couldn't figure out any straightforward way to pin images from these html files.
A more general problem is Pinterest's inflexibility (the down side of its simplicity). Users have very little control over anything except deciding what boards to have and what images to pin on them. There's no way to control image size and placement, or board appearance. Pinterest also pushes its social agenda annoyingly hard - boxes appear demanding that you assign your boards to categories so others can find them, and they won't go away until you do.You're pushed to 'follow' other users and to comment on whatever people put on their boards.
When would Pinterest be useful for a scientist? Anytime you're searching the web for resources, it lets you keep an easy-to-share visual log of what you've found. My display of recent type 4 pili papers helps me remember what to read when I write that part of my grant proposal. If I was going to a conference in a far-away place, I might use it to gather ideas for recreational activities and then email the board's link to friends who might be interested in doing them with me. For group projects you can also set up a group board with several authorized contributors.
6 hours ago in Variety of Life