Why ‘Imgur’ Wants to Be the YouTube for Images

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Perhaps Imgur’s phenomenal growth can perhaps best be seen as a testament to the power of social communities on the web. Other than an initial posting on Reddit, Schaaf did little to promote his new site, which inadvertently taps into a philosophy shared by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (which I’m paraphrasing loosely): If it’s not a good product, all the marketing in the world wouldn’t do a thing to sell it.

“People started sending me donations because they liked it,” says Schaaf. “It was at that point that I realized I might really be onto something.”

His business partner and COO Matt Strader offers a more pragmatic take. “It was a genuine solution to a problem,” he says, who alongside Alan accounts for Imgur’s full-time staff (the rest are interns who work remotely). “That’s one of the big realizations [we had] about Imgur. There are 1,001 places that you can upload images. [Reddit] was a big deal for us because it’s such a close knit community that loves to share.”

But other than its simplicity – a less-is-more ethos so ingrained in the site’s DNA that it comes across in everything it does – what really separates Imgur from other photo services, like Flickr?

“I like to call Imgur a YouTube for images,” says Schaaf, referring to Imgur’s meme-heavy nature. “You go to YouTube to waste 15 minutes and look at videos. With Imgur, it’s like instant gratification.”

The claim is most evident in the site’s Gallery section, which organizes the day’s uploads into large, easy-to-navigate thumbnails. “You don’t have to spend five or ten minutes watching a video,” he says. “You can spend one minute and see 10 or 12 images.”

Naturally, when a site grows as quick as Imgur has, the question that inevitably comes up is this: How will it make enough money to survive?

“Advertising’s our primary revenue,” says Strader. “Our Pro Accounts [free of ads with unlimited uploads] have done really well. We’re also looking for interesting things we can do outside of that.”

However, the site’s been criticized by some of its endemic Reddit base for resorting to ads, while others understand it as a necessary evil that allow the service to continue operating.

Schaaf, however, is optimistic about Imgur’s future. “We’re going in the direction of becoming more of an entertainment source,” he says – a sentiment echoed wholeheartedly by his COO.

“One of the big advantages that Imgur has is all the fantastic content,” adds Strader. “We just recognize that it’s stuff a lot of people would enjoy – people from Reddit, from all over the Internet. I mean, who wouldn’t take a look at at Imgur’s content and get a kick out of it?”

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but in the online battle for user attention, sometimes a few clicks (and a few muted giggles) can be good enough.

(See Alan’s favorite Imgur photos from 2010 here. Number 5 is incredible.)

More on TIME.com:

NewsFeed: The 10 Best Viral Images of 2010

Meet the 20-Year Old CEO Redefining Mobile Advertising

The Internet is Very Big

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