Silicon Valley is declaring that it has spawned another internet superstar to follow in the footsteps of Facebook and Google.
The social networking website Pinterest has shot past the 10-million unique user mark in record time even for a Silicon Valley start-up. Last December, Pinterest had 7.5 million visitors. This soared to 11.7 million by January and is reported to continue to grow at record speed.
According to Californian media, Pinterest is Silicon Valley's hottest social network. The Washington Post has noted Pinterest's extreme popularity with female users.
One reason Pinterest is causing so much excitement is its appeal to female shoppers. In the US, 83 per cent of Pinterest users are women. Female users of the site are also the most active.
"Ninety-seven per cent of the 'likes' are by women, and most find it really addictive," says Chris Jones, an analyst with the research firm Canalys in Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley. "What users love about it is its simplicity. It is easy on the eye and easy to categorise what one is interested in. It lends itself well to the 'sit back on the couch with a tablet/pad browsing experience' that is increasingly popular these days."
Pinterest is essentially a social photo-sharing website that encourages users to post pictures on themed notice boards relating to specific topics such as "Plan a wedding" or "Save your recipes".
A high proportion of the noticeboards and images obviously cater for female users. New visitors to the site are invited to "Check out some pins" and directed to images such a bare-chested publicity photo of one of Hollywood's newest male heartthrobs, with the caption: "Ryan Reynolds, the perfect blend of hot and cute".
In the run-up to the long-awaited initial public offering of shares of Facebook, there is growing investor interest in any new social networking site. Pinterest, with its record growth among female internet users, a notoriously tough market to attract, is already drawing attention to the website and to the company that runs it, the mobile shopping start-up Cold Brew Labs, based in San Francisco.
But analysts believe that 29-year-old Ben Silbermann, the Pinterest chief executive and a Cold Brew co-founder, would be well advised to avoid rushing headlong towards an IPO until Pinterest has developed a fully workable business model.
"It would be unwise for Pinterest to have an IPO any time soon. It would be well advised to follow Facebook's example and wait until it is more mature," says Eden Zoller, an analyst at the research firm Ovum.
Together with some other analysts, Ms Zoller believes that Pinterest may be in danger of being talked up too much and that the company is still at too early a stage to be properly assessed.
"Pinterest is a simple fun service and, although the rapid growth of its use base is positive, it is not the only factor in assessing the company," she says. "The social media market is crowded and competitive … Pinterest is not the only social media start-up to show rapid growth. Foursquare has attracted an impressive number of users but does not yet have a clear financial road map."
Darika Ahrens, a Forrester research interactive marketing analyst, says "Pinterest is over-hyped".
She points out that Pinterest is still a minnow when compared with the growth figures of a social networking site such as Google+. According to CNN, Google+ already had 90 million users in January this year, after launching only in June last year.
"I would need to see a serious business plan before judging how strong a player Pinterest might be in the longer term," says Ms Zoller.
Another question mark hanging over Pinterest, Ms Zoller adds, is whether it will be swallowed or sidelined by a player such as Facebook or Google.
"It is true that Facebook is on the acquisitions trail. But when Facebook or Google buys a company, there is usually some underlying piece of technology or expertise they wish to acquire," she says. "Without this, there would be little to stop Facebook looking at what Pinterest does and deciding if it wants to come up with its own version."
Mr Jones of Canalys believes that Pinterest's linking of its own site to Facebook's has helped to drive growth but warns that this is a path that other social networking sites may also choose to follow.
"It does go to show that it is not impossible to build a new social network, linking to Facebook rather than competing head-on, and it is highly likely that another site will emerge this year that will get to 10 million unique visitors even faster than Pinterest."
Before the dust settles on the excitement surrounding Pinterest, Silicon Valley may already be hailing another local start-up as the next Facebook.