You’ve probably heard of Imgur. The ubiquitous image-sharing platform was founded in 2009 as a way for users to share images on Reddit and other platforms. Since then, it’s swelled in popularity. It’s used to host millions of images across the web. It’s got both Android and iOS apps. It has its own community of people on Imgur itself. It’s over 10 years old now.
But Imgur still hasn’t figured out what, exactly, Imgur is.
Most people think of Imgur as a place to upload images. After all, that is what it was created to do, and, I’d say, what the vast majority of people use it for. It’s simply a repository of images — a place to store your images on the web.
But for some people, Imgur is much, much more than that.
There’s a group of people that call themselves “Imgurians”. And for them, Imgur is much more than simply an image sharing platform. It is a community. A social platform. An online home.
Because while Imgur does offer you a place to upload images, and keep them private, they also offer you a whole other experience. And this is sharing to the community of Imgur.
The problem is, Imgur can’t seem to decide if it wants to be the image sharing platform that it’s known as, or if it wants to be the social platform that Imgurians use it as.
Imgur has features designed for those using the platform as simply an image-sharing service. These include private uploads, easy embedding right after you’ve uploaded, a quick and simple uploading process… You can even search by subreddit on Imgur to find images posted to that subreddit, a feature left from when the site was created as simply an image-hosting platform for Reddit.
On the other hand, it’s missing some stuff that you’d expect to find on an image hosting site. Notably, any sort of image editing. Yes, they offer meme creation, but being able to simply, at the very least, crop what you upload is a feature sorely missing from Imgur. On the whole, though, it works. It’s certainly succeeded at doing this. While it’s not perfect, it works.
“it works” can also be said of the community side of Imgur… although not to the same extent as the uploading service. An uploading service is very simple. Running a social platform is anything but.
And, to be frank, Imgur’s community side could use some work.
Imgur does have a native forum, but that’s not the focus here, so we’ll just look at the regular image uploading process. Currently, the way things work on the technical side is that a post is uploaded. A post consists of at least one image and a title. Optionally, people add text underneath the image and add to 5 “tags” on the post. Once it is submitted, people who have followed one of the tags that was used will see that post in their “feed”. The post will also appear in the stream of posts known as “user submitted newest”. (Imgur sorts things into two main divisions: “Most Viral” and “User Submitted”. “Most Viral” is anything that makes it to the front page of Imgur, while “User Submitted” is all the other stuff. Within Usersub you can sort by “popular”, “rising”, or “newest”.) Once people see the post, they can vote on it — either up or down. The number of votes will affect the score of the post, and the score of the post decides where it gets sorted. These votes will also affect the number of points that people earn. The more upvotes, the more points.
People can also leave comments on posts, and those comments can then be voted on. All very nice and good. At least, in theory.
While tags were a very nice idea, they are, in practice, practically useless. Consistent use of tags on similar posts is simply a dream on Imgur. Currently, they’re a hopeless mess with no hope of ever being resolved. Good luck finding what you actually want through tags.
And while sorting things through votes is a good idea — in fact, there really aren’t that many other ways to do it — it does make it that any post that receives a single downvote at the beginning of its life will find it very hard to recover from that.
And that’s without getting into the content itself.
The thing that makes me most question if Imgur has any idea of what it’s doing is the content hosted on the site. The content on the site ranges from cute pictures of cats and dogs, to cool cosplay costumes, to memes — endless memes — to weight loss progress pictures, to random facts, to quotes… you get the point; it’s a very varied mix of stuff. Which is a good thing.
That is, until you notice random posts disappear, seemingly at random.
The Imgur moderators are notoriously inconsistent. Imgur has rules against pictures of nudity, and pictures of dead bodies, but they are extremely inconsistent in what they consider to be “nudity” or whether historical pictures that include dead bodies are allowed. So you’ll find that one day, a post documenting a historical event will be allowed to stay, and reach the front page, whereas the same image another day will be deleted in violation of the rules.
Another thing is the toxicity in the comments. Sure, Imgur has recently taken a turn to try to be more wholesome (*cough* MrPuckett), but beneath the layer of wholesome memes lies a toxic comment culture that is churning underneath the posts, allowed to stay and permeate the entire place.
Imgur struggles with sexism. The vast majority of users on the platform are young single men. This is, naturally, going to lead to some… comments. On Imgur, though, it’s been taken to a whole new level. Almost anything will lead to comments tinged with sexual tones. The users seem almost thirsty in the comments. It’s slightly disturbing. Also among this are rather transphobic comments — although, oddly, Imgur has an obsession with “traps”. Get into the comments, if you’re any sort of minority, and you’ll soon find that you’ve ended up in a place you do not want to be in.
But, in other ways, Imgur can be extremely positive. There’s a new tradition of posting wholesome memes and being encouraging to each other, slowly mixing in with the dank and self-deprecating memes. Imgur is very supportive of weight loss and self-improvement topics. If you’ve suffered a loss, Imgur will try to be there for you. People will buy random people across the world holiday presents. People will bond over cute pictures of cats and dogs. It’s not all bad. It’s a very mixed bag.
So what does this have to do with Imgur not knowing what they want to be?
Imgur has created a social platform on their site. They now have the responsibility of dealing with it. They can either nurture the community into becoming something great — which it easily could be, from my experiences there — or they can continue to ignore it, allowing it to continue festering, with the toxicity hiding and mixing with the other stuff, just under the thin layer of wholesome memes that you see when you peek in.
Imgur has shaped itself as an image-sharing platform, but they’ve also created this social platform. They continue to act like an image sharing platform, but in doing so, they ignore the fact that they have created a social platform that they are now responsible for.
This indecision is reflected in the very basis of the site. If I go to upload a post, it feels like I’m being pulled in two directions — Imgur can’t make up its mind if it wants to direct me to upload to the community or to a private post. It feels like you’re being bounced back and forth a bit while uploading.
To a certain extent, everything I’ve written here can be applied to any social platform on the internet. However, I believe that Imgur in particular could do a much a better job that it is right now. It’s the internet — nothing will be perfect so long humans are involved — but there are steps that can be taken to vastly improve the experience for people. At the very least, putting it out more clearly how users are expected to interact. Imgur is not yet at the sheer size of platforms such as Twitter or YouTube or Reddit where the volume is simply so large that meaningful moderation is almost impossible. Imgur is still small enough that with a bit of effort, things can vastly improve and set the path for the way forward.
Imgur needs to decide. They can continue to behave as if they simply exist to share images. They can decide not to put any more work into the social platform and allow it to continue as it is. In doing so, they would cement their position as an image sharing service, and the community aspect of their site would at best be secondary.
Or, Imgur can decide to turn things around on the community side. Start by addressing some of the obvious problems. Cast some light into the dark places on the site and drive some of the monsters out. Turn themselves into a respectable social media site — one that has the potential to be better than something like Twitter.
Personally, I believe that Imgur can both be an image sharing platform as well as a social community platform. They just need to put some work in, on both sides, instead of the dillydallying in the middle that they’re doing now.