If you like the general concept of Pinterest but want to be able to house more than just images of things you might want to buy (and let's be upfront about the fact that most people on Pinterest are ultimately e-window shopping), Springpad is worth investigating.
This free web app is not nearly as social as Pinterest, nor as well designed. However, it offers an online collage-making experience that extends far beyond what Pinterest covers, borrowing ideas from note-taking apps such as Evernote – like allowing for typed "notes" in addition to images, and using tags for better sorting and searching – to round out the list of ways in which you can use Springpad. The similarities to Evernote aren't as strong as the comparisons with Pinterest, which can cause some confusion because Springpad is typically classified alongside Evernote. Think of Springpad as more like an enhanced Pinterest but with less social activity, and you'll be set.
Since I last evaluated Springpad back in 2011, the site has actually become more – not less – like Pinterest, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The visual design and organisation are better, but still far from perfect (as are Pinterest's, I might add). General usability and navigation remain two of Springpad's major weaknesses, so much so that I never felt sucked into it the way I was with Pinterest.
Part of that is to do with the content that's on each site, and Pinterest simply has a wider, ever-growing catalogue, although Springpad works much better as a personal or private space. If you want to keep virtual pinboards for your own notes and ideas, and not necessarily share them with the world, you're better off with Springpad.
Anyone can sign up for Springpad, which is free, by providing an email address and creating a password. You have the option to provide additional information, such as your full name or photo, as well as connecting to Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Gmail accounts.
Springpad does have some sharing and social features tied into the site, although they're not nearly as enticing to use as Pinterest's, in part because boards on Springpad are private by default, so there's less to see. (It's worth noting that Pinterest simply has a larger community and thus more content).
You can search boards that are made public, however, and follow them for future updates and activity. You can "re-pin" an item from someone else's board to one of your own, just as on Pinterest. But unlike Pinterest, which restricts users to having no more than three private boards, you can have as many private boards as you want on Springpad.
Signature features and design
One aspect of Springpad that's quite different from Pinterest is that pins, or "springs" as they're called here, can take a variety of forms, whereas on Pinterest they may only be images and videos. With Springpad, however, a spring can be a note, to-do task, web clip, link, file, image, event, and more. The "more" list comprises a few rather odd categories, such as an alarm (email reminder sent at a specific time), recipe, book, product, and this is a slightly trickier area to explain.
All this "more" stuff connects to a database of sorts where you'll find suggestions. It's a little similar to "liking" brands, celebrities, and other fan page content on Facebook.
So, say for example that in Springpad you elect to create a new item in one of your notebooks that's a TV show. The app pulls up a list of suggestions from which you can choose. The problem is the results aren't always useful. While I found books by authors' last names and TV shows by title, when I searched for something as generic as "bag," my first result was a sack of dog food (see the below image).
As you use the app to create notes, to-do items, or web clips, you'll have the opportunity to organise them into "notebooks" or collage boards. Each notebook can have its own name, description, and colour theme. The home screen always shows you all your notebooks laid out visually, in a grid, with the total number of items in each notebook displayed on each one, as well as whether the board is private or public, and if the latter, how many followers are watching it. Springpad finds a nice balance between form and function on this home screen.
The general navigation could and should be expanded to give users more top-line functionality within easy reach from any page. As it is, the navigation menu has My Notebooks, Following, and Explore. I'd like to see a list of all my notebooks in a vertical left rail or perhaps in a scrolling strip along the bottom at every step, because notebooks are central to the experience. I should be able to access them, browse the list of them, and jump between them with ease. The way it's structured currently, you have to flip between multiple pages to get from one notebook to the next.
As you dive into some of the other features – creating and tagging notes, adding due dates to items, clipping part of a web page – it's even more difficult at times to remember where you are and from where you came. A little more structure would go a long way.
Unlike Pinterest, Springpad's dashboard and workspaces are more freeform, too. You can drag and drop clips around as if you were arranging them on a poster board, or set them to display in a locked grid.
Another one of Springpad's signature features is that you can save notes and ideas in the form of web clips using a one-click extension for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Browse for visual ideas about your next vacation or how you want to redesign your home, and you can cobble them into a digital scrapbook.
Springpad's plug-in works much more reliably than Pinterest's "pin it" bookmarklet (which just searches the active page for an image to copy and save), and offers many more features, too. Click on the extension, and you see choices to add a web clip, type a new note, add a to-do item, and so forth. When a web clipping is indeed what you want, you can sort and tag clips into various notebooks, create items with due dates, and more.
If you're looking for a web clipping service that has more privacy than social features, Springpad shows promise, even though it's not fully mature yet. New users will appreciate the ability to arrange their "springs" as they see fit (rather than in Pinterest's mandated reverse chronological order), and put more than just images into their notebooks, even if the site could still use a lot more finesse.