The hot take on popular image-sharing service Imgur’s upcoming Terms of Service change is that it’s all about banning porn. But it’s more than that, and it’s poised to significantly disrupt your experience using the web. Here’s why.
Over the last decade and change, the image-sharing service Imgur has become a significant part of the internet experience. The service was founded in 2009 by an Ohio University computer science student, Alan Schaaf, as a side project.
Schaaf’s goal was to create an alternative to other image-sharing hosts and their cruddy retention, ad-laden linking policies, and other issues that made for a poor user experience. Alan’s post announcing the service as a gift to Reddit users as an alternative to ImageShack and Photobucket is still online.
The service quickly grew from side-project status and became widely used on Reddit and other online forums. There is a very good chance if you’ve spent any time online over the last decade (reading Reddit or otherwise), you’ve seen thousands of images that were either hosted directly by Imgur or originated there and were later shared on Facebook, texted to you by friends, and so on.
Imgur has been such a ubiquitous element of the world wide web experience that millions of people have interacted with the service without even realizing they’re using Imgur—and millions more actively use the front page of Imgur like a social media platform, sharing memes and images directly within the Imgur ecosystem.
So How Is Imgur Poised to Break The Web?
On April 19, 2023, Imgur announced they are changing their Terms of Service, effective May 15, 2023. The titillating portion of the announcement (and the one most news articles are leading with) is the ban on all pornographic content. But it’s not just about banning porn to appease payment processors or cut down on hosting costs.
Our new Terms of Service will go into effect on May 15, 2023. We will be focused on removing old, unused, and inactive content that is not tied to a user account from our platform as well as nudity, pornography, & sexually explicit content. You will need to download/save any images that you wish to save if they no longer adhere to these Terms. Most notably, this would include explicit/pornographic content.
If you’re not using Imgur as a free porn host or a fan of one of the numerous NSFW subreddits devoted to adult content that lean heavily on free Imgur hosting, that might not seem like anything particularly relevant or newsworthy.
But if it’s not your first image host rodeo, you might not be paying as much attention to the “inactive content” portion of the announcement as you should be.
Let’s say someone writes up a tutorial about something, shares it in a forum, and they include images. They need an easy way to include those images, so they use Imgur, which has long been a fast, easy, and superior alternative to other image hosts.
Maybe the tutorial is about customizing your espresso machine with an Arduino controller. Maybe it’s about how to fix a specific problem with a popular washing machine model, and the pictures are crucial to understanding how to apply the fix correctly. Maybe the image is just a really handy fan-made infographic to help people plan their Stardew Valley harvest schedules or check off all the in-game achievements. Or maybe the image is just a meme that sparked an interesting debate about a topic. It’s easy to write off meme posts on Reddit as just internet junk food, but over the years, I’ve found interesting website links, book recommendations, and tips buried in comment threads under memes.
Concerns over content like that vanishing and littering untold thousands of tutorials and forum posts with “image missing” broken image placeholders from ImageShack and Photobucket is exactly why Imgur was created in the first place.
Early on, Imgur added a premium account to help defer costs and even briefly had a policy of deleting non-premium posts six months and older to help keep costs down. But in 2015, Imgur changed its policy to return to its roots as the place where images were safe from link rot—unless deletion was requested, the images remained hosted by Imgur indefinitely.
Now, we get it. Being the internet’s favorite free image host is expensive. In fact, if you go back and read the comments on Schaaf’s original Reddit post announcing Imgur, a good portion of them can be boiled down to “Dude, how are you gonna pay for this?” because even back then, it was clear it would be quite costly to position yourself as a free ImageShack/Photobucket alternative.
But for the better part of a decade, Imgur has been the defacto place to park images and share them. People used the service to host their DIY project pictures, upload photos of repairs they needed help with, and share guides, jokes, memes, and more.
If the “inactive content” part of the Imgur Terms of Service update ends up being “all the old crap we don’t feel like paying hosting fees for anymore” and not just content that was uploaded eight years ago and never looked at again, it’s going to punch a giant hole in the fabric of the internet.
We’ll be right back where we were in 2009 when Imgur was the proposed solution to image-rot problems: looking up forum posts, online discussions, and tutorials only to find that the passage of time (and the expense of hosting images) has rendered the content hollow and unusable.
Note: We reached out to Imgur for comment on this story and clarification on what exactly the service defines as “inactive content,” but we had not received a response as of publication time. We’ll update this article if we do.
We’re worried about it and we’re certainly not alone. The issue we’re raising here is the alarm that’s sounding over at /r/DataHoarder, a subreddit devoted to archiving everything under the sun that can be archived. So if you’re already thinking about all the things the vanishing of unregistered and inactive Imgur content might take with it, you may want to check out the subreddit and this discussion thread dedicated to the topic.
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