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Pinterest founder, York native returns to hometown, looking for ideas
Pinterest founder returns to his native York to talk with "pinners." William P. Kalina, 717-505-5449/@BillKalina
Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann are on the lookout for the next big idea — and it could be in York County.
When Sharp returned to York — his hometown — Monday, May 7, to meet with local "pinners," he was struck by the many ways they were inspired.
Though they lived so close together, they had very different ideas of how to use the social network, which lets people "pin" or organize a collection of images on virtual bulletin boards.
Josh Galinato, of Spring Grove, used it to find tattoos and learn how to build his own bookshelves.
And Rebecca Wattenshaidt, owner of York City boutique Elizabeth & West Fashion House, used it as inspiration for her blog Mommy in Heels.
"I think my favorite thing about Pinterest is that it’s a really great way to find all these ideas," Sharp said, and then take them offline.
Each year, Sharp and Silbermann set out to connect with pinners across the country and learn the ways in which they use the site — and this year, they chose their hometowns.
They will be heading to Silbermann's hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, in the fall.
Small town inspiration: In visiting York City, Sharp marveled at how much the landscape had changed.
"I'm so impressed how much the downtown here is really (blooming)," he said.
When he moved away in 2001, downtown York did not have all the coffee shops and restaurants it does now, he said, but it did have small-town charm.
Sharp always loved the history of York County's colonial buildings, and his parents — including former York Suburban school board president Lynne Leopold-Sharp — were historians and park rangers.
'It's a really interesting place," he said. "There's a lot of community here."
A York Suburban High School graduate, Sharp credits some of his success to the opportunities he had growing up, saying he was able to do a lot of things he might not have been able to do at a larger school.
He took part in sports, theater, music and outdoor activities and got the chance to "be a leader in high school in a bunch of ways that I think were very helpful for me later in life."
"Looking back, I'm really grateful this is where I grew up," he said.
Now living in San Francisco with his wife, who is expecting their first child (a girl), he hopes he can replicate some of the experience for her.
Journey to pinning: It wasn't until later in life, however, that Sharp was led to Pinterest.
And the idea came from an unlikely source — architecture.
As an architect, working in New York, Sharp often found inspiration online — saving thousands of images to folders on his computer.
But it was difficult to navigate the search to find what building they were from or which architect had designed them, so he wanted to find a way to put them into an organizational framework.
He met Silbermann through a friend, and "we both were really excited about the internet in like a really funny, kind of naive way," Sharp joked.
They hoped to work on something together, he said.
Pinterest started as a way for both of them to organize their interests — Sharp using it for his architecture and Silbermann to save recipes, travel ideas and home decor inspiration.
Sharp grew up drawing and coding on his dad's old Macintosh computer and never thought he'd make a career out of it.
But after working on interface design at Facebook for a year after college, he became excited to build something in technology.
Sharp and Silbermann launched the site in 2010, and after nine to 12 months, others began to find out about the platform.
Now one in five Americans will use Pinterest this month — more than Twitter or Snapchat, Sharp said.
"We didn't have some grand vision of what it would become," he said.
Unlike other social media networks, which people use to connect with friends or family, Sharp said, the the idea behind Pinterest was a very personal one.
It's about "staying connected to what you want, what your dreams are, what future you might envision," he said.
York gets inspired: Sharp and Silbermann met with locals, business owners and bloggers throughout the county who did just that.
On Tuesday, they made rhubarb cocktails with local pinner Sarah Mock, who has a food and lifestyle blog, Savoring the Good.
And they met with Sarah Lanphier, owner of the York City business Sarah's Snacks.
"The way I used it for architecture, where you see something and then you kind of go and do it in real life, people are using Pinterest in that same sort of way," Sharp said.
Pinners from York City, Spring Grove, Shrewsbury and Spring Garden Township used the site for an array of ideas, such as tattoos, DIY projects, hair and makeup, hand-lettering, sweepstakes and fashion.
Growth: In its first year, the company was pretty small, Sharp said, but it found a home outside of the hustle and bustle of the technology centers.
"What’s interesting and kind of beautiful about Pinterest is it’s the only big internet company I know of that actually got popular in the Midwest, and in Utah," Sharp said.
It took off outside the big cities — in the countryside and the suburbs, he added.
Within the last few years, Sharp and Silbermann have focused on making the experience of using Pinterest relevant to people in other countries.
"France has a lot of pride in (its) food culture," Sharp explained, so it wouldn't make sense for pinners from that country to always see American food in their search results.
"Or if you’re in Japan and seeing fashion from Germany, it’s probably not something that you’d actually want to wear," he continued.
"We’re always trying to make sure we show you the right ideas," he said.
Looking ahead: To that end, Sharp and Silbermann are implementing new ideas to make search results even more relevant.
The future of Pinterest, Sharp said, is in "visual search," which lets users pinpoint something within an image, such as a coffee cup, and have computer vision search for other related images.
"It’s not as much about, 'What is that?' but more, 'What can I do with that, how can I make that, what can I pair that with?'" he said.
A couple of weeks ago, they launched technology that works with speech-enabled features on computers to read search results to the visually impaired.
"Pinterest isn’t just about visuals. It’s about discovering ideas," Sharp said. "Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you don’t have that same need.”
And another update will allow users to search for results tailored to hair type or skin tone — something they decided based on feedback from past tours.
Sharp is always on the lookout for the next big idea, and he hopes he might find it on this tour — perhaps even in his hometown.