I’m Alan, and I created Imgur. AMA!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an AMA, and figured I’m well overdue for another one. Imgur has grown and changed so much over the last couple years that it’s now a huge entertainment destination on it’s own, but it all started here on Reddit first.

Back in 2009 I was frustrated with the state of image hosting on the Internet and thought that I could do something about it, and that’s how Imgur was born. It started as a simple hosting service, but I quickly learned that running a website wasn’t so simple of a thing. To find out what to work on next, I lived off the user suggestions I was getting. Every morning I’d wake up to a new full inbox of user suggestions to go through. Those suggestions eventually led to the “popular image gallery,” accounts, comments, replies, messaging, notifications, apps — all the features that make Imgur what it is today were at one point user suggestions. I was also lucky enough to have the reddit community support Imgur with donations (thank you!).

It wasn’t long before I moved out to San Francisco to start growing Imgur as a business, and within the first month, it won TechCrunch’s Best Boostrapped Startup award (and got a second one two years later). From then on I started hiring engineers, improving the product, and focusing on the user experience. After another couple of years and growing the team to 12 people, we decided to take investment from the awesome people at Andreessen Horowitz. Since then, the small family that was the Imgur team has grown to a big family of over 60 people. We’re now in a much bigger office, and whole teams are focused on different aspects of Imgur and we’re all trying to make it the best place on the Internet to discover awesome images.

The vision for Imgur has expanded a lot since the beginning. What we’re striving to do now is lift the world’s spirits for a few moments everyday. This might mean experiencing things that makes you laugh, that makes you smarter, that makes you feel supported, or that makes you feel inspired. No matter what it is, you walk away feeling better and glad you were able to escape your day to day and reconnect with humanity. Everyday I see us fulfilling this mission with the amazing stories that people share every day, and we even threw what we called Camp Imgur to celebrate that.

Some things that we’re working on now that have been challenging:

  • Scaling the infrastructure has always been a challenge. We’ve gotten really good at it over the years, but things are always evolving and changing, and unfortunately that also means we see more downtime than we’d like to. This is pretty much a function of hiring though. We need more great engineers to help us take our infrastructure to the next level. You can read more about our stack from this blog post I wrote a few years ago. Most of it is still true, except that we have new services that aren’t listed.
  • The world is moving mobile and apps are hard to build. A lot of consumer companies were caught by surprise by the shift to mobile, but it’s the real deal. It would now be insane to be a consumer company to not have an app or a mobile optimized site, and we now see more mobile traffic than desktop traffic. To account for this, we’ve had to build 3 new teams this year to focus on mobile: iOS, Android, and Mobile Web. I’m excited to say that we’ve released our apps earlier this year and they’re getting better and better, and we’re still working to improve them everyday. We now see half of all engagement on Imgur coming from mobile. But man, getting there was a big challenge and now we’re going to have to redo our whole API for the apps to scale.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of stuff over years thanks to Imgur. From running a startup, to organizing teams, to scaling MySQL to go way beyond what it was meant to do. I’ve spoken at more conferences than I can remember, and have even done a TEDx talk. Also, today is my birthday! So, please feel free to ask me anything, or give suggestions on how to make Imgur even better.

edit: proof http://imgur.com/pT3StKM

Are you guys profitable yet? Any long-term plans to develop revenue streams that allow profitability?

We were bootstrapped and profitable for 5 years, so that mentality is baked into our DNA. Now that we took funding, we’re focused on monetization through promoted posts.

I’m really excited about the promoted posts product too. People actually like our ads and that’s incredible, because almost no one really likes ads. We pulled it off though, and the brands we’re working with are seeing off the charts engagement.

Care to give us some insight on what models you were using prior to funding to turn in profit?

I believe back then it was because there was so little overhead aside from bandwidth. We were a really small team in a cheap office with a ton of traffic. We eventually got really good at optimizing the ads around that traffic, and the more we did that, the more people we were able to hire.

How much of your original code from the first few months of launch still exists in production?

Very very little from the first few months. About a year in I rewrote almost everything to be more scalable and used proper frameworks.

How was the transition from working on your own to hiring engineers? Was there sufficient documentation or a scramble to get them up to speed?

That transition is hard. There’s no way around it. You built up a code base that you love dearly and now other people are inside of it messing things up. You just have to get over it and realize that it’s your job to create an environment where they can be successful. The shift goes from focusing on your code to focusing on your developers who are writing the code.

How are you able to monetize reddit links when apps like the reddit app and RES just embed the image?

unfortunately there’s no way for us to monitize the links from reddit apps and RES. I’m happy that people are using Imgur though.

What frameworks do you guys use?

I shouldn’t say too specifically because it would be easier to poke holes in it, but we do use PHP, MySQL, Memcached, HBase, and HAProxy on the backend. And ReactJS on the frontend.

How did you come up with the name Imgur?

img is the acronym for image. And ur is the acronym for your. So in some really weird way I thought it could stand foryour image.

Edit: abbreviation, not acronym. TIL

Why was the choice to paste URLs dropped from the android official app? I have to go on the site on my phone to paste them now or take up space on my phone saving images just to reupload them.

That’s a great suggestion. I’ll tell the devs now. We completely rewrote the apps, so these things weren’t necessarily dropped on purpose. There’s lots of little things like this that we have left to do.

How do you feel the internet has grown, in terms of image hosting, since imgur was created? Do you feel like, now, other hoster have to be less cluttered and more appropriated towards the core of their purpose in order to compete with imgur?

In terms of the Internet, it’s getting closed off. Places have their own hosting, and they have their own everything else. Companies are creating walled gardens around their properties to keep you inside.

For everyone else, you can try out the apps here: http://imgur.com/apps

During the big app update a couple of months ago, the focus of the app seems to have turned from image hosting to image browsing, with many features that I, and I presume most redditors, frequently used, dropped. I’m talking mainly about creating and editing albums. Are there plans to reimplement them?

We redid the app from scratch to build it natively — before it was just a webview. Some things haven’t been built back into it. You can create albums however by uploading multiple images at one time. I’d love for you to be able to edit them too eventually.

How do you say imgur? I need to hear it from you. Alan.

image-er

How do you feel that Imgur has spawned its own community, Imgurians, and some even detest Reddit?

Imgur spawning it’s own community was one of the magical moments that made me realize that Imgur is going to be big, and that I wanted to focus on it and go all in. Our mission is to lift the world’s spirits for a few moments every day, and the way we do that is through the community. In the short term, that means delivering great mobile apps, tools for creating great content, and making it easier for people to join.

Some of the most amazing things have spawned out of the Imgur community, and here’s just a few: Cards for Jared,Socks Story, Random acts of kindness, Upvotes for charity, Maddie’s Miracle, Sharing cool moments, Beer hero, Imgur Gets Drawn, Ridiculously Happy Marine Love Story, Finding a job, Brain surgery support, Cleaned up a river bank, sparked more cleanup, and of course Camp Imgur

I do know that lots of Imgurians are Redditors and vice versa, but not everyone is apart of both, and that’s cool too.

Why can’t we sign into Imgur using Reddit?

Reddit didn’t let you do that when we created the signin page, and we just never went back to add it in. Surprisingly, there’s very little demand for it.

What do you have to say about the recent connection between imgur and 4chan?

That was a really strange thing that happened to us. A bug was exploited to add JavaScript to an image page, and that was used to attack 4chan. I don’t have much else to say about it though really, just a bizarre situation. We fixed the bug within an hour of identifying it. If anyone ever finds a flaw in Imgur than we’re very responsive to security@imgur.com and offer bounties.

Edit: it was 8chan instead.

How does it feel knowing reddit uses you to share pictures of cats and Chris Pratt?

http://i.imgur.com/i2Go0L5.gifv

How do you feel about people using Imgur to share photoshopped pictures of Nicolas Cage?

http://i.imgur.com/xI4aDVO.gifv

Did you expect imgur to be so popular?

Never. Imgur started as a personal project I was doing while in college, and I just stuck with it. Eventually I knew I was onto something and that’s why I got a team together and moved out to San Francisco.

Now after all this time the app is getting really popular and it’s a super exciting time for us all over again.

What did you use for image sharing before you created Imgur?

ImageShack

What’s your favourite band?

The Flaming Lips

Are you rich now? Do you have a dream home and if so what is something cool you have in it?

I’m not rich at all — I have a salary just like everyone else at the company.

I live in San Francisco currently and the housing market is nuts out here. I have no ambitions to buy a house anytime soon.

On average how much traffic does your site see each day?

On average how much traffic does your site see each day?

In the early days of imgur, what was your vision? What inspired you and made you want to set imgur apart from other image hosts at the time?

The vision simple, and was to just create the fastest, easiest, and most streamlined way to share images on the Internet.

I realized that no one actually wanted to put images on the Internet. That’s just not something that people did. Instead, they wanted to share them with someone or a group of people — that was the true intent. That meant that I needed to make the necessary but unwanted step of actually uploading as easy as possible, so that people could get on with their sharing.

Do you have a favorite subreddit?

/r/oddlysatisfying

Does your success ever feel surreal to you?

Literally every day. I’m just a regular dude though and have a role to play in this company just like everyone else.

What do you feel was the biggest mistake that you made throughout creating imbue then managing a growing company?

I should have built my team faster. It’s amazing how much more you can get done with just a few more people.

Also, we’re hiring! http://imgur.com/jobs Better late than never.

How does imgur make money? I use RES on reddit and have always wondered (felt a little bad actually) how could imgur make any money if i was able to view only the image and not ads or anything else from imgur?

Hey! Imgur makes money through advertisements, like the 300×250 ads in the sidebar, and through promoted posts.

Unfortunately though there’s no way to make money on the use case you described, with RES. I’m still happy people are using Imgur though

What is your plan to keep imgur from becoming a flash-in-the-pan type fad or just another image hosting site?

Our mission is to lift the world’s spirits for a few moments every day, and do that by making it really easy to share and enjoy awesome images with millions of people around the world. In the short term, that means delivering great mobile apps, tools for creating great content, and making Imgur awesome in other countries. Long term, that means thinking about new platforms – we’d love to have people enjoy Imgur on big screens some day, and maybe even wearables.

I was not here in the world before imgur, how has it changed the face of reddit? Did it do everything you wanted it to?

You’re lucky you didn’t have to experience the world before Imgur. That’s not a world I want to live in.

It made image sharing so much easier on reddit. It was a huge pain before, so I guess now that it’s easier, it did accomplish that mission.

Do you have any plans for expanding future operations of Imgur or do you planning on keeping it as an image host for reddit?

I have a lot of plans for Imgur. It’s come a very long way from the simple image host it tarted out to be. It now has it’s own community (called Imgurians) and millions of people go there directly to discover the most awesome images on the Internet.

How does it make you feel that 90% of your website is other people’s cats?

I like cats. I’d prefer it if it was 90% pictures of my dog though: http://i.imgur.com/jMZ8HPw.jpg

How much more independent do you think imgur will become? The majority of Reddit just uses it as a platform to share their pictures but many people use it as an independent site. Was this the initial goal or has it just grown to that?

The original goal was to let people share images anywhere and everywhere they wanted, and that’s still true. But it turns out a lot of people loving being able to come to one place to view all those images and talk about them, and that’s what’s happening on Imgur. We spend most of time making the Imgur experience awesome for every platform, but love that we’re able to help people share images other places too.

Do you pronounce gif with a soft or hard g ?

jif

I honor the creator’s pronunciation. It’s his name, he can say it however he wants in my opinion.

What’s the biggest challenge you or your team is currently trying to solve? Technical, personnel, business side, infrastructure, etc…just curious!

Without a doubt, creating awesome mobile apps. Apps are hard and require a lot of time to get right.

How much money do you make yearly?

Unfortunately as a private company we don’t give out those details publicly. Sorry about that.

Do you think that imgur itself is reliant on Reddit, or if imgur would survive as a popular website without the “help” of Reddit based posts?

I definitely see Imgur surviving on its own – the Imgur community is growing fast and is definitely stand alone from reddit’s. At the the same time, I’m also a long time redditor and I love that I get to continue to support this community as well.

What is your favorite imgur post of all time?

I don’t think I have a favorite of all time, but all of these are the best according to our community: http://imgur.com/top/all

How did you manage your time between working on Imgur and the rest of your responsibilities?

It’s really hard — no way around it. You have to pick which thing is most important to you, because inevitably you’ll fall behind on something. I prioritized Imgur except during midterms and finals time.

When the going got tough, when that one function refused to be fixed, and when you felt like giving up and busting out your favorite time waster… How did you resist?

I look at one step at a time and try not to get discouraged by the huge staircase that’s left to clime. I’ve never had one single step defeat me, and just muscle through it somehow. It turns out that doing a crappy job on something is way better than not doing it at all.

What resources would you recommend us developers, and how did they help you?

It turns out that everything you’re ever trying to do has been done before by someone else and is likely on the Internet. Get good at Google and crowd sourcing your questions. There are always people willing to help you.

Have you ever had storage issues on Imgur?

Only in the very beginning before Imgur was on AWS and S3. Now that S3 is our storage backend we’ve never had any issues with storage.

Do you get stuck browsing imgur in bed when you wake up like I do?

I get stuck browsing it everyday. It’s also hard to get work down around the office because the images are so easily distracting.

Do you think that growing the community is just as important as keeping the hosting technology up-to-date? How important are events like Camp Imgur and other community related events to the longevity of imgur?

The community is incredibly important to us, and the hosting is the underlying layer that makes everything possible. We’ll always be expanding on both over time.

We haven’t decided if we’re doing Camp Imgur again yet, unfortunately. It’s hard to tell how important events like that are to the longevity, but we know the community in general is critical.

What did you think of this AMA Highlight?

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