The internet has become the home lover's go-to place for everything from style news and trend updates to shopping and designing, with social media sites leading the way. While official rankings seem to change on a weekly basis and giants like Facebook and Twitter still dominate, it is the new kid on the block, Pinterest, that is the destination of choice if you prefer photographs to endless discussions about lunch options and holiday destinations. Despite only being launched in 2010, Pinterest has been making regular appearances in several top-five listings and has plenty to offer the web-savvy homebody.
Getting started is easy. Sign up for your free account and (once you've had a glance through the site's copyright policy) you can immediately start connecting with friends by following their "boards" - collections of their favourite images from Pinterest and elsewhere. Browsing individual images, or "pins", by category, popularity or by limiting your selection to pins of those you follow, you can begin to build your own boards by pinning the images you like best, uploading your own or pinning from other websites. But that's just the start. As a tool for interior design fans, Pinterest has many other uses.
A source of style inspiration
Wondering what to do with your spare room? Struggling to decide how to update your kitchen? No problem. Type a few key words into Pinterest's search function (something basic such as "bedroom" or more speficic such as "shabby chic style") and you'll find yourself face-to-face with more inspirational snaps than you could dream of. From designers and photographers showcasing their portfolios to bloggers who have researched the best of the best, there are thousands of people uploading beautifully shot room sets for you to browse from the comfort of your home. To get started, take a look at The National's "Homes" board at www.pinterest.com/thenationaluae/homes/.
A way to create mood boards
When you find an image that really inspires you - something you'd actually like to emulate in your home - you can pin it onto a board of your own. You could start a "dream homes" board or a "bathroom renovation" one or gather "favourite patterns" or "great colours". You can then start pinning images from favourite stores, so as to include actual current product images and build a picture of the room you might create. You could even take and upload photos of your home or room as it is, to keep it in mind as you create. The great thing about Pinterest as a mood board creator is that you don't have to cut up your favourite magazines, catalogues and photographs. Also, if you pin directly from a website, the picture will automatically link back to it, so you'll always be able to find the original source.
An inside track on latest trends
Want to know what's big in the world of interior design? Easy; just search for trends on Pinterest and you'll find out in seconds. The site is full of interior design experts - whether they are retailers, designers themselves or trend-spotting journalists and bloggers - who build their reputation by sharing their predictions, observations and tips. For example, if you want to know what colours are going to be big, have a look at Pantone's boards (hint: emerald green is their "colour of the year"). Or follow the boards of your favourite designers: big names such as Kelly Hoppen, Nina Campbell and Andrew Martin all have their own pages.
A window shopping hub
If there are hundreds of designers on Pinterest, then there are thousands of stores. If you don't fancy hitting the malls, take a shopping trip with Pinterest, where retailers list their goods with price tags to turn their boards into virtual shops. You can search by item, style, colour or even price. Then simply click on a picture you like and you'll be taken to the page where you can buy it. If you're not sure exactly what you want yet, you can create a wishlist by pinning these product images - as well as any others you find while browsing elsewhere on the internet - onto a dedicated board or one of your pre-existing mood boards. If you don't want to make your potential shopping list public, you can always create a "secret board" that only you can see.
A place to network with other home lovers
While you can enjoy Pinterest as a solitary pastime, it is much more fun if you connect with other people. The simplest way is to follow friends or others whose style you admire and then hope that they follow you back (which they will, if you're pinning great images that catch their eye). You can also "like" people's pins, leave comments and even get involved in group boards - either by invitation or by starting your own and inviting others to join. Pinterest will help you start finding connections by allowing you to log in with Twitter, Facebook, Gmail or Yahoo and gives you the option to "find" or "invite" your friends from these sites.
A way to discover new design blogs
Many of the people who share images on Pinterest are bloggers who pin directly from their own site (or have images from their blog pinned by others), which means that the images link back to the original site. This makes Pinterest an excellent way to discover new blogs that you might not otherwise have found. There are some big names on Pinterest such as Decor8's Holly Becker, but you might be just as interested in some of the smaller, niche bloggers too, such as Rachel Ashwell of Shabby Chic Couture. And it's not just individual bloggers you can follow. Many events have their own pages, like Design Days Dubai, as do bars and hotels, which post some truly inspirational interiors shots.
A platform for developing your own blog or business
Of course, as with all social media platforms, Pinterest can be more than a hobby. As we've seen, if you're a blogger it is a great way to direct readers to your blog and, likewise, if you're a retailer you can use it to get the attention of potential customers. And there is much more: 2012 saw the launch of Pinterest's business arms, with useful tools and brand guidelines such as how to use the "pin it" button on your site and how to use the Pinterest brand in your marketing material. Find out more at business. pinterest.com.