Imgur wants to be the next Facebook killer
Let’s be real: Social media as we know it is all about the followers. The more followers, the more likes, and we yearn for those double-digits on Instagram, triple-digits on Facebook, and the increasing follower count on Twitter and Snapchat.
Imgur (pronounced Image-ur) is trying to change that. Imgur, founded in 2009, began as a photo-hosting utility, but has been been pushing toward a new identity as a social media platform for awhile. It took a big step forward Wednesday when it unveiled new features like a news feed and its own spin on GIFs. It’s avoiding an essential part of other social media platforms, though: followers.
“Imgur isn’t about following a celebrity, and it’s not about following a person in real life,” says Alan Schaaf, Imgur’s founder and CEO. “You don’t have to build up a massive following and use that to get your distribution. The only thing that matters on Imgur is the quality of the content.”
The site aggregates and displays the content that has received the most likes, comments, and views — there is no way to “friend” other users, and while there are abstract metrics to indicate reputation, it’s impossible to know how many followers another user has.
This, says Schaff, is what makes Imgur a perfect candidate for the next big social media network — one that focuses on short, humorous media. With several new features launched Wednesday, Imgur is making a push towards a new, meritocratic vision of social media: one which centralizes the content, and decentralizes the reputation of the user.
The features are for iOS only, but will roll out to other platforms soon.
The first new feature is a news feed. In addition to the list of the “Most Viral” content for which Imgur is already known, you’ll be able to view a feed of images personalized for you, based on tags and users you follow.
But unlike Facebook’s news feed, Imgur’s will actively push you out of your comfort zone. Your feed will consistently suggest tags and users to add, based on what you’ve been liking, clicking on, and browsing.
“We want to break you outside of that friends list.” — Imgur’s Roy Sehgal
“We want to break you outside of that friends list,” says Roy Sehgal, Imgur’s chief operating officer. “You’re missing the world by only seeing these fake experiences your friends are sharing. Our content is authentic.”
Authentic is a term overused by many social media players, so it’s O.K. if that last sentence made you instinctively eye roll. And to be fair, it must be mentioned that other sites, like Reddit, also champion content based on its own merit, not the clout of the user who posted it. In fact, Imgur was created by a Redditor as a gift to Reddit because at the time the site couldn’t host photos on its own. Reddit rolled out its own image hosting last year to compete with Imgur after it began forming its own community.
Another new feature, Snacks, is Imgur’s first venture into video content. Snacks are short, soundless videos that loop automatically. Unlike GIFs, which Imgur already features, snacks can be enlarged, rewound, and paused. Imgur will feature the site’s best snacks right below its search bar.
Favorite Folders are another part of Imgur’s new look, though they rolled out two weeks ago. Before Favorite Folders, a “like” on a photo was just a statistic that pushed it higher or lower in the “Most Viral” list.
Now, users can save their favorite images in folders that they can go back to at any time — a feature that would be out of place on an image-hosting utility, but necessary on a social network.
Finally, the desktop homepage has gotten a major redesign. Imgur hasn’t been updated since 2014, and it was so difficult to navigate that I tried to join several times but just couldn’t figure out what to do.
The new Imgur looks like a very well designed Tumblr blog — it’s colorful, sleek, and intuitive. It’s still in beta, which you can join here to test and provide feedback. Not all users will receive beta access immediately, but the pool will expand over time.
Image thumbnails are much larger than they were before, and include a caption, description, and statistics so you know what you’re looking for. If you don’t know where to start, the list of recommended tags will help you on your way, and the accompanying art is colorful, eye-catching, and adorable. A number of cute phrases welcome you to the site, and introduce you to its culture. Highlights include “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” “Wholesome Memes and other wares,” and “Where memes are born and selfies come to die.”
Sehgal and Schaff hope that the new layout, more befitting of a social network, will make Imgur more accessible to new users accustomed to the likes of Tumblr and Twitter.
“Imgur is going to help people discover the internet’s magic,” says Sehgal. “That’s our new tagline. Imgur helps you discover the magic of the internet.”