Pinterest said it has hired Li Fan, the former head of image search at Google, as the company’s new head of engineering.
Much of Pinterest’s most promising technology involves searching for objects within photos and then using that technology to rank and display the most relevant content to users, whether that’s through search or the traditional feed. Users searching for those products may inevitably want to buy them, meaning the products are critical both for its user engagement and commerce products.
That’s increasingly important as Pinterest’s commerce ambitions continue to grow. Offering users the ability to find objects within photos — even through photos they take — can drive them to products they may be interested in inevitably purchasing. In that sense, Pinterest’s visual search (something that Pinterest has quickly distanced itself from the pack with) is become one of the best tools that marketers can use to push users closer and closer to a moment of conversion.
Most of Pinterest’s content comes from businesses, whether through the form of promoted content or users simply organically posting products on the service. As a result of that, Pinterest has developed a wide array of advertising tools that helps marketers get their products in front of users at various points in their lives, whether that’s through random discovery, searching, or inevitably saving and making a purchase.
Pinterest has also begun rolling out a series of new video-focused tools, both for marketers in the form of advertising products and native videos for Pinterest users. Not surprisingly, a core component of those products will be developing visual search tools for elements within those videos, and continuing to staff up the company with visual search experts is going to be key to those efforts.
The company’s former head of engineering, Michael Lopp, left mid-April earlier this year after joining the company in June 2014. Lopp wasn’t the only engineering departure in the past several years, with Mark Smallcombe serving a ten-month stint as the company’s head of mobile and product engineering.
Fan held senior engineering roles at Google for the past eight years or so, and prior to that was VP of search at Baidu.
So, in the end, a hire like this isn’t that surprising. But what is interesting is, after having a quiet front of the year, Pinterest seems to have started get very aggressive with new acquisitions and hires. It recently acquired the teams behind Instapaper and Highlight, not to mention a number of smaller companies.