Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Tech Times | How a Pinterest engineer is making search easier

Published:Monday | June 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Searching for ideas on how to arrange photos in her college dorm room, Cindy Zhang turned to Pinterest for some inspiration as a freshman.

Now, the 23-year-old software engineer, who joined Pinterest in 2015, is helping 150 million monthly active users on the social bookmarking site tap into their creative side.

Zhang works on the tech firm's search product team, which consists of 30 per cent women engineers. She built the Android version of a new feature the company is testing called Lens, allowing users to discover more ideas by snapping a photo of an object in real life.

"I think as an engineer it's really important to have inspiration to keep you going and work on a product that you really love," she said.

Q: Pinterest Lens basically allows you to snap a photo and then you get a list of recommended pins. How is the beta testing of the product going so far?

A: It's going very well. We've got a lot of people posting what photos they've snapped on Twitter and recipes they've found from Pinterest Lens. We've also gotten a lot of people who take selfies to get their celebrity look-alikes. We discovered that people really like the suggestions we give from Pinterest Lens. If you took a picture of an avocado and got pictures of more avocados, they didn't find that very helpful. They wanted more context, like avocado recipes. We've got a lot of people really excited about (Lens) on Twitter and social media.

Q: If you're searching online, normally you would just type it into a search bar instead of taking a photo. How do you change consumer behaviour?

A: I think a lot of Pinners find a lot of ideas when they're on their computer. We wanted them to get ideas in the real world. I feel like Pinterest is not a search engine where you type in something and you get an answer. It's more, 'I'm curious and I don't know what I'm going to get as results.' I think Pinterest Lens really helps with that. Here's a type of furniture I really like, I don't know what it's called, but I'm curious about it, so let me take a picture of it and get some ideas.

Q: Sometimes people take photos at a weird angle, or it's blurry. How is Pinterest tackling that problem?

A: We have some tools to address it on the front end and the back end. In the app, if you are in a dark setting, we will turn on the auto-flash setting for you. Then we also have back-end detection, where we will detect whether an image is blurry or dark and then basically show a (notification), telling you we can't see in the dark or ask you to stay still. We have image detection that will tell you our results aren't going to be great because you're moving around too much or your image is too dark.