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What really killed them was the GIF explosion. Average image size remains largely static and bandwidth and storage costs steadily decline so if you get your timing exactly right, you can hit that sweet spot where your CPM declines slower than your hosting costs and provide an increasingly profitable business.

However, GIFs completely upended that calculation by increasing the average file size by an order of magnitude and pushed the viability of a cruft free image host further down the road by another few years.

Frankly, I'm surprised Google never just bought imgur and absorbed it under youtube or something. Being the default place on the web to host images seems like something way more strategically valuable to Google than any standalone image host.

Why would Google buy when they can just create one overnight if they wanted? Probably much more stable than Imgur too.

Imgur is just a commodity. Youtube is not.

Imgur has a community. Tons of users that goes directly there to see funny images and GIFs.

Yes, Google can create a infinite scalable image hosting overnight, but creating a community is a lot harder.

Imageshack was in the same position 5 years ago. And Photobucket 3 years before that. Image hosts go through a cycle of upending the tyrant and then becoming the villain.

Ugh. Don’t remind me. I used yfrog (Imageshack’s Twitter-friendly brand) for years, and now I have probably hundreds of old tweets with missing images.


does anyone remember pbase.com for free photo gallery hosting, in around 2002? apparently it still exists with its same basic but functional UI.

From their FAQ:

Is PBase free?


it used to be, a long time ago

Free ones at least.

Creating communities is hard, but Google wants a unified 'Google' community, not multiple disparate ones -- just look at how they handled YouTube.

Even if you throw in some machine learning to figure out if the user's looking at memes or gifs or porn, I can't imagine the marginal value of that data being of use to Google. It's essentially unmonetizable, which is why most image hosts disappear after a few years.

Imgur was successful in avoiding that fate by pivoting to a community, but that community would be of no use to someone like Google.

Especially as Imgur is already giving Google that information for free (from the Imgur source):

    <script type="text/javascript">
        __ga('send', 'pageview');

What makes you think this is free?

And why would Google purchase a forum site for sharing funny images and GIFs?

Why would they purchase a forum site for sharing funny cat videos?

A guess: (and note they kept youtube a wholly owned subsidiary I think) they desperately had to make sure the Viacom lawsuit defense was well funded and aggressively defended or it would severely damage Google's business.

Also, google has now had success building photo sites / photo products, but at the time of the youtube purchase, hadn't had much success building a video product.


Because it's a monopoly. Come back when Imgur becomes the only (or one of very few) place on the web to share funny images and Gifs. Farewell.

Are you trying to imply that Youtube is a monopoly? Aren't there others like vimeo, etc.? Besides, there is nothing from technology perspective to make it a monopoly. All you need is a server rack and a bunch of web developers who can build such a site, right?

Well, there's also massive scaling, which the average web developer isn't experienced with. Then there's creating a consistent experience across various devices and browsers.

So, sure, anyway halfway competent developer could bang out a YouTube (or Facebook, etc) prototype in a few weeks, but going from there to a reliable, usable service at scale is something else altogether.

You're going to need some project managers, SREs, sysadmins, front and back end web developers, programmers who know about video encoding, content experts, lawyers, etc...

Youtube is a monopoly in a way Google is a monopoly. Just like how there's Bing and DuckDuckGo but most people use Google, most people use Youtube although some do use sites like vimeo. If you think it's so easy to build a site that competes with Google or Youtube you should go ahead and build one and overtake them. After all, nowadays everything is open sourced, you can even build your own search engine from scratch overnight.

>Youtube is a monopoly in a way Google is a monopoly.

So not at all unless you change what having a monopoly is.


They did make their own version of youtube at one point, apparently it wasn't enough and they wanted the userbase too.

Does anyone know if it was specifically the community/userbase that enticed Google, or was there some technical aspects to YouTube that Google couldn't or didn't want to build themselves?

Contemporary media coverage suggests they wanted to buy out a competitor which became the dominant video site in a year. This New York Times article [1] from 2006 wrote:

"The acquisition of the privately held YouTube will enable Google to thrive in one area of the Internet where it has so far failed to gain footing. According to Hitwise, which monitors Web traffic, [YouTube] has the lion's share of online video traffic (...) a 46 percent share, MySpace has 23 percent and Google Video has 10 percent."

Meanwhile, this 2006 article from the Economist [2] stated:

"the deal is 'an aggressive, mature move for Google, one that shows that senior management is not too proud or stubborn to see that they can't build everything themselves,' says Henry Blodget, an analyst at Cherry Hill Research. Indeed, Google's Mr Schmidt freely conceded that YouTube is the 'clear winner', especially in creating social networks around its site."

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/09/business/09cnd-deal.html

[2] http://www.economist.com/node/8031159

> was there some technical aspects to YouTube that Google couldn't or didn't want to build themselves?

Google had very much the power of building a YouTube-like community themselves, but buying out a competitor is a short-cut since it has the positive side-effect of removing that competition in our business. After buying YouTube, Google didn't have to waste time in building a community around a new product or "converting" the YouTube masses to theirs.

This short-cut way of acquisition is nowadays preferred by large companies rather than risk everything by doing innovation and "real" competition.

If I remember google video was superior in video quality and looser limitations, it was a place where you could commonly find full documentaries while youtube still had a 11 minute video limit. It was actually google acquiring youtube that caused youtube to loosen their limitations and go for HD. I doubt they bought it for any technical reasons, google's infrastructure was already superior.

Google knew that Youtube will turn into the largest video search engine, so they bought it strategically. Otherwise someone else could have swooped in and acquired the largest video search site, which would have left Google vulnerable in many ways.

Summary: userbase/community was what drove the network effect, which made it impossible for Google to catch up, and that's why Google made the decision to purchase Youtube.

Google did build similar functionality. Google Video was a thing for a while. They closed it down a while after acquiring YouTube.

Google had a YouTube competitor at the time. It wasn't very successful.

> Imgur is just a commodity. Youtube is not.

Video hosting + community is a commodity.

Image hosting + community is a commodity.

But most of imgur's audience is not even seeing the site or is just looking at a quick picture and then going back to reddit or some other referring site.

I think you're mistaken here. As a reddit user you might think that, but there's actually a fully functional imgur community that votes on images independently from reddit and comments on them on imgur independent from reddit.

Just scroll down on this page: http://imgur.com/gallery/tWWxi4D

Voting options, and lots and lots of comments.

Parent said "most of", and I think that's pretty much correct regardless of how vibrant of a community Imgur has. Most traffic to imgur is via embeds or links from another discussion forums. The former case obviously provides no exposure to Imgur community, and even in the latter case most people are there only to look at the picture, not to engage as an Imgur community member.

The whole point of this discussion thread is that Imgur is f*ed because they aren't independent enough. Otherwise there's nothing to worry about, right?

wow, that's an awful UI. Reminds me of the gloomy days of 9gag, circa 2010.

A substantial portion of Youtube's audience does that too.

Monopoly is not a commodity.

Non-monopoly is a commodity.

Imgur is exactly as much of a commodity as YouTube. The exception is that they host images instead, and when you consider that the images are silent webm videos a lot of the time, the lines are even more blurry. The value to both communities is just that, their communities.

I can name hundreds of places to find funny images and memes. Heck even buzzfeed satisfies that demand. As does google images

I wanna see the entire game 7 of the nba finals online. Show me where besides YouTube.

I wanna see the Red Wedding scene again. Show me where besides YouTube.

I wanna find a quick entertaining video to show my kid. Show me where besides YouTube.

I wanna find a compilation of the longest homeruns in baseball history. Show me where besides YouTube.

Heck most people try to ignore YouTube comments. It's not really a community at all. The actual content is the value prop.

Agreed; whilst there are some subcommunities that appear unscathed, YouTube comments are typically a cesspool of hurtful spew from the bottom feeders of human society.

> Imgur is exactly as much of a commodity as YouTube

Youtube isn't a commodity. It's the place that even your aunt, mother, grandmother, uncle will visit and knows to visit for entertainment or music. People who would never have a reason to visit imgur.

Commodity is when your product has no differentiation on the market. Imgur does not have enough differentiation on the market and that's why they're a commodity. For image centric community you can go to Reddit, Tumblr, or any kind of online forums really. Youtube's differentiation is that it has created significant network effect around public video hosting. Can you think of any meaningful competition other than Vimeo? (Or maybe a couple of others but they're nowhere as close as all the online forums online)

Buying is cheaper than building in many, many cases, particularly when it requires a userbase.

> I'm surprised Google never just bought imgur

Sex. Corporations tend to keep faaar away from everything related to porn, and a fair share of imgur images is nsfw content. Cleaning it up would be more trouble than it's worth.

I take it you're not familiar with Bing's #1 use case and specialty.

I'm not. Do tell!

Bing's video search has a lot of porn sites indexed and provides in-line preview of said videos.

It is by many considered better than purpose built porn search sites, such as pornmd.

Pron. Bing is better at pron.

> Corporations tend to keep faaar away from everything related to porn

Yahoo's purchase of Tumblr and many bids for SnapChat seem to be evidence to the contrary. Cable companies and premium channels also make a lot off of porn.

Porn is fine for large companies as long as they have some cover (the product isn't just porn).

Some nudie pics or vanilla porn would probably be the least of their worries. I can imagine that a service like imgur spends the bulk of their time cleaning up the nastier bits that inevitably creep their way into such a large site. How many companies really want to inherit a high maintenance mess for such little return? At least with Tumblr and Snapchat you have a strong brand. How many average Internet users outside of Reddit (or the 18-34 male demographic) have even heard of imgur?

Some huge name corporations are very involved in the porn industry. Clearly, that fact is not well known.

What makes you think imgur is dead? They have a thriving community independent of Reddit. Some might even argue it's a better community.

Some might argue that, but it doesn't make imgur's business model any more sustainable unfortunately.

I was thinking it'd make more sense for Dropbox to buy imgur, or offer a similar service: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11906573

>> What really killed them was the GIF explosion.

No kidding. The whole front page is all animated GIFs (or .gifv/mp4/whatever

Eh, they're serving GIFs up as video and low-res, short compressed videos aren't actually all that big these days.

It probably is still larger than normal non-animated images

I've come across animated GIFs that when downloaded in GIF form are 100+MB. That's slightly different than a 100KB jpeg.

Yes but you are supposedly not serving the GIF but the mp4 video.

A premium model for gif hosting might have been an alternative.

As it is:

1. I hate gifs (with very few exceptions).

2. I lack a decent place to host images associated with Reddit.

3. Subscription-based services are a risk on several fronts.

But imgur can control the maximum sized gifs allowed. And they even adopted webms to reduce file size massively.

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