Diigo Versus Pinterest: The Student Perspective

Last month, I blogged about the choice I gave my statistics students between using Diigo and Pinterest for the social bookmarking assignments in the course. I floated two possible reasons why most of my students selected Diigo over Pinterest:

  • Hypothesis 1: Students choosing Diigo over Pinterest selected the service that seemed more academic.
  • Hypothesis 2: Pinterest has the reputation for being a site mainly for women. Most of my engineering students are men, so they opted for the less gendered option, Diigo.

Hypotheses are all well and good, but I wanted some evidence, so I asked my students on their end-of-semester survey why they selected the platform they did. Of my 71 students, 45 responded to this question. A handful of responses were in line with my hypotheses. Three students said they chose Diigo because it had a more academic or professional feel:

  • “Pinterest didn’t look really professional. Had a homely feel to it.”
  • “I chose Diigo because it seemed simpler and more basic also more academic. Pinterest seemed a little too close to a site like Twitter or Facebook.”
  • “My girlfriend is a fashionista and uses Pinterest, she says it’s for wedding dresses and fashion alike, so I choose Diigo.”

Note that the third comment doesn’t explicitly say anything like “Pinterest is for girls,” just that Pinterest is for non-academic interests, like wedding planning and fashion, so I grouped it with the other two comments about the more-professional feel of Diigo.

There were, however, four students who mentioned perceptions of Pinterest as a site that caters to women:

  • “Diigo, because Pinterest caters mostly to females.”
  • “Diigo because I thought Pinterest was feminine.”
  • “Plus, if I had registered for Pinterest, my girlfriend would have made fun of me for the next 6 months.”
  • “Diigo, because Pinterest is generally accepted as a girly site.”

Although these seven comments support my hypotheses, these were not the most popular reasons my students cited for selecting Diigo over Pinterest. The two most popular reasons both came as a surprise to me, for different reasons. Eight of my students (18% of them) described Diigo as easier to use than Pinterest. Here are a couple of representative comments:

  • “I chose Diigo because it was more straight forwards and Pinterest has too much going on.”
  • “I chose Diigo because it seemed like the simpler option at the time.”
  • “I choose Diigo because the Chrome extension seemed more developed and user-friendly.”

I was surprised by these comments because I found Diigo pretty confusing the first time I used it. Perhaps that was because I was used to using Delicious for social bookmarking, but I know the first time I tried Pinterest it was incredibly easy for me to learn to use. These responses are a helpful reminder that our students sometimes see things very differently than we do.

Seven of my students (or 16%) noted that account creation is easier and faster on Diigo than on Pinterest. Some comments:

  • “Diigo, because it was faster and easier to register for.”
  • “Pinterest requires waiting for them to ‘invite’ you to join their website. I didn’t like the exclusivity they were trying to project on its users, especially considering its a social bookmarking website.”
  • “Diigo. Pinterest never emailed me back.”

I wasn’t expecting these responses, either, although, in retrospect, I should have. I had to wait a day or two to get my “invite” from Pinterest, which didn’t bother me at the time, but I can see how waiting a few days to start using a service would be a turn-off for students eager to get started. I imagine some students waited until the night before the first social bookmarking assignment was due to request accounts, which made the choice of Diigo over Pinterest even simpler for them.

There was one other set of responses that surprised me. Two of my students indicated that they wanted to use the platform used by the majority of their peers. Here are their comments:

  • “Diigo because everyone else chose it and I didn’t want to be using some weird program that didn’t pertain to the rest of the class.”
  • “Diigo; because you said it was more popular one of the first days of class and I figured the majority of the class would pick Diigo (because you also said Pinterest was initially for scrapbooking or something similar, and I figured you would pay more attention to the site with the most users in our class, which was clearly going to be Diigo)”

These are fascinating comments. On the one hand, I would like students to select bookmarking platforms that fit well with their own personal workflows. On the other hand, these comments are, to some degree, an acknowledgement that social bookmarking only makes sense if it’s done in the context of an active community. This makes sense to me, and argues for the value of having a single platform used by all students in a course. In my course, only a handful of students went with Pinterest, which did, to a degree, isolate them from the bulk of the social bookmarking experience in the course.

That second comment also reminds me how important it is to choose my words carefully when telling students about their technology options in a course!

In a comment on my earlier post, librarian Rudy Leon suggested that students might have gone with Diigo as the more flexible social bookmarking option, since Pinterest limits bookmarks to pages that feature images of a certain size. Only two of my students mentioned this restriction as a factor in their decision, however. Here are those two students’ comments:

  • “Diigo. I felt that access to more than pictures was more useful for the assignment.”
  • “I use stumbleupon frequently, and I come across webpages that have great prob/stat stuff, so I personally wanted to bookmark full pages, ergo I chose Diigo.”

It’s possible, of course, that many of my students didn’t realize this limitation of Pinterest when they made their selection. Had more of them realized it, more of them might have cited this as a factor in their decision.

I gave students the Pinterest option for two main reasons. One was that with the data visualization emphasis in the course, a visual bookmarking service like Pinterest offered certain advantages. (Diigo, for instance, doesn’t show thumbnails of bookmarked images, whereas Pinterest does.) The other was that I guessed that at least a few of my students already had Pinterest accounts and that these students would prefer using a system they already knew how to use. As it happened, three of my students said they chose Pinterest over Diigo because they already had Pinterest accounts. None of my students indicated that they already had Diigo accounts.

Other reasons cited for selecting one platform over the other included the name of the platform (“Diigo had a cool name,” “Pinterest because I liked the name better”), familiarity but not existing use of one of the platforms (“I used Pinterest because my friend had an account and told me it was a great website”), and an interest in not blurring the lines between personal and academic bookmarking (“Diigo seemed more easy to share only with the class–wouldn’t want stat infographics getting mixed in with wedding inspiration”). The rest of the students who responded to this question on the survey didn’t identify any reason for selecting one tool over the other. It’s possible that these six students were subject to the recency effect, as commenter Andrew mentioned on my earlier post.

What are my takeaways from these student responses? One is that perceived ease of use matters to students when selecting a platform or tool, and that what I see as easy to use may not be what they see as easy to use. Another is that making someone wait a few days to start using a service is a little absurd. I understand that this is often necessary for start-ups given limited resources, but a service with such a waiting time might not be a good choice for academic use. These two observations lead me to a third one: The look and feel of a site isn’t as important to many students as its functionality and ease of use. The notion that Pinterest is less academic or more feminine didn’t matter to many of my students as much as the fact that they found Diigo easier to start using.

What are your thoughts on the Pinterest / Diigo choice? Do you see some of the factors identified above as relevant to other platform choices students might be given?

Image: “Interesting Pin,” by me, Flickr (CC)

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