As a small-business owner, one of the hardest parts of planning my visits to a conference is finding the most interesting--and relevant--panels. But equally important is learning when the best after-conference activities occur for networking purposes. Those events are not always included on the official conference schedule, but it is exactly those places where deals are done and new relationships are formed.

At this year's South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, one of the best sources of information on networking events, parties, and external events was, of all things, a Pinterest board created by Esteban and Somerlea Contreras. The board was an experiment outside of their "day jobs" working in social media and editoral, respectively. While many associate Pinterest with home furnishing, design and fashion, this somewhat unique collaboration on the platform worked quite well as a group effort to share useful information about events, networking dinners, parties, and panels.

I asked Esteban Contreras about his use of Pinterest and his thoughts on the value of the platform as a way to share information across a group.

How long have you been using Pinterest?
I've been on Pinterest for about 6 months. I dismissed it the first time I saw it in early 2011 and it wasn't until around the time Pinterest secured $27 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, which valued the company at $200 million, that I realized Pinterest was onto something. But I didn't start using Pinterest because of the buzz it was getting on tech blogs. I started paying attention because I noticed my wife using Pinterest. Actually, my wife and most of her girlfriends were spending a lot of time on Pinterest, and that intrigued me, so I gave it another shot.

What inspired you to create a Pinterest board for SXSW?
I enjoy creating lists. It's easier to keep track of things that way. While I typically use, Eventbrite, Google Calendar, and Plancast to make sense of my SXSWi planning, I figured it would be more fun and effective to collaborate with others. Pinterest allows you to easily invite others to participate on a pinboard so I created "Guide to SXSW Interactive 2012: An Experiment" with this description "This is an experiment in Pinterest collaboration. 140+ collaborators are free to pin their favorite SXSW Interactive events, parties, meetups, venues, photos, experiences and destinations." I added 140+ people that I thought might find this useful and started adding a few pins to get it started.

What did you hope would happen?
I wasn't expecting much. I only hoped that a couple of people would contribute and that no one would get bothered by the invitation. So far there are 220+ pins and 750+ people following the pinboard. Many have contributed, a few have asked to be added, and only one person has asked me to remove them.

What did people used the board for?
The board was very open-ended. Pins range from invitations and restaurants, to photos, ideas, memes, and illustrations. Pins started weeks before SXSWi and have continued after the event has ended.

Did you have any spam or bad-actors? Did the community self-police?
Even though a few people have been very active, no one has been spammy. The key is inviting people who wouldn't be spammy, and making sure questions and comments are addressed in the comments.

What have you learned from this experiment?
I learned that people are definitely willing to use Pinterest as a collaboration tool. I also learned that Pinterest has a long way to go to make this a viable option for serious curators and collaborators.

What could Pinterest do better?
There are many things I would like Pinterest to enhance. For example, I'd like to see robust analytics, brand pages, sub-boards, private boards, an Android app, scheduling of pins, search filters, redundancy filters, an API, and more powerful collaboration and moderation tools. Here are my 10 reasons why Pinterest is so addicting:  Self-Expression, Curiosity, Accomplishment, Curation, Community, Relevance, Anti-Boredom, Life Planning, Escape and Engagement.

Want to learn more? Esteban and Somerlea created a SildeShare about their thoughts on Pinterest.

Are you using Pinterest in a unique way? Let us know in the comments below.