I’d used Pinterest on both the web and my iPhone and sometimes ended up in the app unplanned because a Google search for wedding #inspo led me there. A few months after I left all wedding-related activities behind, I was still receiving suggestions for “pins” in my email inbox on a daily basis. These were feverish vision panels of heteronormative marriage, sultry brides in egg-white dresses and ornate jewels posing in cave-like rooms. Or couples standing in the fields exchanging their vows. All of them weddings on clear days (it never rained on Pinterest). Would the app ever catch up with real life?

I noticed that the Pinterest San Francisco office is just around the corner from mine. On a bright, sunny day in October 2019, I met Omar Seyal, who runs Pinterest’s core product. I said politely that Pinterest had become the bane of my online existence.

“We call this the miscarriage problem,” said Seyal, as soon as I sat down and opened my laptop. I may have flinched. Seyal’s role on Pinterest doesn’t involve advertising, but he tried to explain why the internet kept showing me wedding content. “I see this as one version of the majority bias problem. Most of the people who start wedding planning buy expensive things, so there are many expensive ad offers out there for them. And most of the people who start wedding planning finish it, ”he said. Likewise, most of the Pinterest users who use the app to search for nursery decorations end up in the nursery. If you have a negative experience, you are in the minority, said Seyal.

The internet doesn’t care if you actually miscarried, got married, moved out, or bought the sneakers. It takes those sneakers up and running with all the signals you gave it and good luck catching up.

When engineers create platforms for ad retargeting, they’re building something that continually delivers more content for the things you’ve stated you’re interested in. On average, this is the correct course of action, said Seyal. But these systems do not take into account when life has been interrupted. Pinterest doesn’t know when the wedding never happens or when the baby won’t be born. It doesn’t know that you no longer need the nursery. Pinterest doesn’t even know if the vacation you made a collage for is over. It is not interested in your temporal experience.

This issue was one of the top five complaints from Pinterest users. So Seyal and his team worked on a solution for nine months. The intention was certainly good. Seyal showed me how to “tune” my home feed and unfollow entire topics – like “wedding” – instead of picking up items individually. When I went through my account history, I found that I had clicked on many more wedding-related Pins than I ever realized.

I asked Seyal if Pinterest had ever thought about a feature that would allow users to mark a life event as complete. Cancelled. Complete. Complete. “We’d have to have a system that thinks things at the event level so that we can deliver on the promise,” said Seyal. “Right now we’re just using relevance as a measure.” But Pinterest had in mind that in the long run, people might be more inclined to use the app if it could become a clean place for them, when they need to be, one Corner of the internet cleared of grief?

“I think it’s an even stronger statement than that,” said Seyal. “If we solve the problem you described, the user won’t necessarily come back, but we may have solved a terrible experience on the Internet. And that alone is enough. “

Pinterest hadn’t really solved it, however. The new tuning feature I saw in their offices felt like little more than expanded menu options, a Facebook makeover of the settings. At the beginning of 2021, Pinterest suggested “24 excellent and elegant silk wedding dresses”.

When I left Pinterest that day and returned to my office, I realized I was stupid to believe that the internet would ever pause just because I did. The internet is smart, but not always smart. It’s personalized, but not personal. It lures you in with a timeline and then fucks with your time concept. It doesn’t matter if you actually miscarried, got married, moved out, or bought the sneakers. It takes those sneakers up and running with all the signals you gave it and good luck catching up.


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