Imgur, the image sharing and hosting service, is shifting its focus from its desktop website to its suite of mobile apps, where the company is now seeing a majority of interactions. The transition began last year with the launch of its first iOS and Android apps, and continues today with the launch of Imgur's first dedicated iPad app. The company has also overhauled its existing mobile apps, adding 3D Touch support for iPhones and bringing Material Design to the Android version.
The site that began as a quick and easy way to upload an image and share it has already grown larger than Reddit, the social network it was designed to assist back in 2009. Now CEO and founder Alan Schaaf says it's trying to capitalize on the way people find the best stuff on the internet today — and that means mobile. "We think that entertainment is actually pretty fragmented," he says in an interview with The Verge. "We think we have a massive opportunity to unlock entertaining content and make it viewable by anyone anywhere."
Imgur now sees 1 billion image views on mobile every week
Imgur is on its way. The company today said that likes and comments on Imgur's mobile properties now account for more than 50 percent of all interactions. Meanwhile, mobile views on Imgur posts are up 152 percent, with more than 1 billion image views on mobile every week. The apps reimagine how Imgur's desktop site works by letting users toggle between categories like "Most Viral," "Awesome," and "Funny" and upload images right after capturing them from a smartphone camera or from the device's existing camera roll.
Because you can swipe between posts with the flick of a finger, Imgur's mobile apps make browsing easier than on the web. Imgur's mobile apps also feel more like a social network than the desktop site, giving the service an identity that could resound better with people who know it only by the URL they arrive at accidentally when they click through on a Reddit image.
Imgur's momentum comes at a time when an increasing amount of image sharing is taking place in walled gardens. Despite spending 70 hours a month on average using smartphones, Americans spend most of that time in just three apps, with about half of those hours spent in a single app, according to comScore's 2015 US mobile app report. The most popular app is Facebook, and it's no surprise the social network is increasingly a one-stop-shop for everything from viral videos to natively hosted news articles. For most new apps, gaining traction has become nearly impossible, and is still difficult even for existing and popular services.
Imgur is playing a different game than Facebook to be sure. But it's nonetheless competing for mobile eyeballs with one of the stickiest apps on the planet. It’s less clear how Imgur will make significant money on mobile. The company has experimented with sponsored post packages on its homepage it would sell to advertisers, and last year it began dabbling in native advertisements businesses could pay to have pop up for users as they clicked through on images. But Imgur last year shuttered its pro account that let users pay $24 a year not to see advertising, and did so before the launch of its mobile apps.
US smartphone users spend a majority of time using just three apps
Schaaf says the key for now is growing Imgur's community, which encourages users to vote on posts and leave comments, to help pull the most interesting or viral posts out of the noise. Whether that's enough to take any of Imgur's mobile apps to the top of the charts, or to keep people coming back each and every day, is an open question.
Schaaf has resisted fashioning his company as just another software tool for larger services — the approach taken by animated GIF platform Giphy, which integrates with Facebook Messenger and a slew of other products. "We think we’re much bigger than the GIF," he says. "We see people expressing themselves with really in-depth stories, and all different types of content." The company today announced it was hiring its first vice president of product, Ajay Arora, who comes from Amazon-owned Audible, to help aide its app-centric push.
Consider "Rattata Only Solo Run," which recently bubbled back to the surface of the site's community three years after it was first posted. Featuring 85 Pokémon screenshots, the gallery tells a story of one player's attempt to traverse the entire game with one of the worst characters available. It is an outrageous and triumphant tale, told through images and captions alone. It could only exist on Imgur, and it remains there even when it's linked out on Reddit or shared on Facebook. If Schaaf can keep users engaged enough to create more content like that, his service may just continue to grow well beyond its origins as a photo-sharing utility.
Update at 2:35PM PT on Wednesday, March 9th: Included Imgur's announcement that it was hiring Audible's Ajay Arora as its first vice president of product.