Imgur's popularity proves people can't get enough cat GIFs
The Internet just can’t get enough cat GIFs. Want proof? Just take a look at the explosive growth of Imgur (pronounced “imager”), a site best known for its animal memes. In four years, Imgur evolved from a simple photo host to a full-fledged community of thoughtful, friendly users. Those cute kittens are contagious.
Alan Schaaf created Imgur for Reddit users in 2009. Images that went viral on Reddit often exceeded their host site’s bandwidth and ceased to exist. Schaaf thought he could do better. Redditors loved the site, turning to Imgur as their de facto image host.
Today, the bulk of Imgur’s traffic still comes from Reddit. But the site is gaining traction with millions of users who are discovering the site’s memes and GIFs on their own, with the help of Imgur’s new Android and iOS apps. The site recently celebrated a milestone, hitting 100 million unique monthly visitors, who upload more than 1 million images and view more than 2 billion images every single day. TechHive talked to Imgur CEO and founder Schaaf about the site’s origins, the growth of its community, and, of course, those darn cats.
TechHive: One year ago, you were attracting 1 billion image views per day. How did you double that?
Schaaf: Ever since the beginning in 2009, we’ve seen tremendous growth. Typically in the past, we’ve seen 5 and 10 percent growth every month. Some months are huge. In four years, we’ve reached a major milestone, 100 million users. We’re very proud of ourselves. We attribute most of our growth to the community. We try to keep up with what they want. A lot of the features that are on Imgur come from user suggestions. If we have a bug, they tell us and we fix it right away.
TH: What kinds of features have you added based on user suggestions?
Schaaf: Almost all of them—all of Imgur, basically. The initial need that people had on the Internet, that they couldn’t host their image, to the whole gallery. People could upload, but they wanted to see what people were uploading. They wanted to see a stream, to see the best viral content. That’s what we built for them. That’s what Imgur is today, a destination for the best, most viral content on the Internet. Once we had all that, they suggested replies to content, notifications, private messaging. Our entire product roadmap is based on what people are telling us. I think that’s really amazing because we end up building a product that people really want.
TH: How would you describe the Imgur community?
Schaaf: I would say that our community is a lot friendlier and a lot more welcoming than some of the other sites I’ve belonged to in the past. It’s also really funny. It’s a big deal to be the funniest person on the thread, because then your comment is upvoted the most, you get the most reputation points. We have a system similar to Reddit’s comment system. Our community is really dedicated, almost proving all the other communities wrong. There are places on the Internet where people are nice to each other.
TH: What kinds of images are most popular?
Schaaf: The content really varies a lot. If there’s a cat in your post, that usually does pretty well. We get everything from funny animated GIFs to long story-type posts. Something that could start off really sad—a homeless animal, its fur gone. Someone ends up adopting it as a pet. At the end of the post, the animal is happy and has a family. It can start sad and end up a good story.
TH: I know people who browse Imgur every day, multiple times a day. What’s the appeal?
Schaaf: We’ve tried very hard to make that happen. One thing that is so great about browsing through images and images in general is that when you see one, it’s instant gratification. It’s a shot of dopamine in your brain: I want more. Our average number of pages views per visit is 11, and coming from Facebook, it’s 30-something. They want more and more. There comes a time when you need to take a break and go do something else, but then you end up coming back to see what’s new.
TH: Is Imgur still closely aligned with Reddit? How much of your traffic comes from Reddit?
Schaaf: It is no longer the majority. In terms of referral traffic, Reddit is the top, then it’s Facebook at about 17 percent. Direct traffic is over 30 percent of the site as well. People are going directly to Imgur more than they’re being referred there.
TH: What’s next for Imgur?
Schaaf: We are increasing the limits of what people are allowed to upload. We’re basically doubling everything, from 10MB uploaded and 1MB compressed, to 20MB uploaded and compressed to 5MB. High-quality image sharing, if that’s what you want. We’ve also enabled secure browsing—a small, minor thing, but all major sites have that ability. Further down the line, we’re looking at stuff for analytics on images, views over time, what sites are linking to them the most.
A few months ago, we released our meme generator, which was our first content creation tool on the site. Not only are people uploading their image like normal, they’re creating their image, too. We’re getting into more content creation tools. I don’t want to give away the ones that we’re working on, but that’s what we’re getting into.