Wedding Dresses and Wanted Criminals: as an Infrastructure for Repository Building

People love to collect things – bugs, stamps, records, bellybutton lint, toilet seats, and portraits of famous people on toast. (Go ahead and google them, it’s all true.)

The diverse uses of Pinterest, from capturing criminals to planning weddings.

Collecting things is a common activity and, increasingly, digital collections play an important role in people’s lives. According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 41% of adult Internet users in the US curate collections consisting of others’ images and videos. is a site designed to let people curate and share collections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pinterest became one of the fastest growing social media sites on the Web and is used by its members for purposes that range from planning weddings and birthday parties to capturing wanted criminals.

These diverse uses, and correspondingly diverse users prompted us to wonder, what role does Pinterest play in people’s lives and how does it fit into the vast and growing ecology of social network sites?

To investigate our questions we interviewed people who use the site for personal interests, and people who use the site for professional purposes. After coding and analyzing the data we identified four kinds of activities on Pinterest:

  • Collecting
  • Discovering
  • Collaborating
  • Publishing

And two cross-cutting themes:

  • Ownership
  • Interaction and Identity
Activities and themes on Pinterest

In our paper, we use Star and Griesemer’s concept of “boundary objects” to discuss how these activities are understood by people who use the system for different purposes. Boundary objects were introduced as a way of understanding how museum collections represent the convergence of different social groups’ interests; we find this vocabulary to be particularly powerful for theorizing collections and the roles that collections play for different groups. For example, some collections on Pinterest are built for events like weddings that bring together disparate groups – the bride and groom, guests, family, vendors, designers, etc.

As awareness of Pinterest grows, organizations like police departments and healthcare organizations have begun to use the site for increasingly diverse purposes and the presence of increasingly disparate groups makes it a rich context for studying the role that collecting plays in a wide range of human activities.

For more, see our full paper, Wedding Dresses and Wanted Criminals: as an Infrastructure for Repository Building.
Michael Zarro, Drexel University
Catherine Hall, Drexel University
Andrea Forte, Drexel University

About the author


Ph.D. candidate at Drexel University, College of Information Science and Technology

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1 Comment

  • I’m curious: do any of these themes (collecting, discovering, collaborating, publishing) play an especially big role in motivating a new user to join the site? What gets people hooked?