Imgur Plays Catch-Up With The Modern Web, Introduces Tags

It might be a decade late, but adding tags will open up new advertising possibilities for Imgur.

Home of the Internet's most viral images, Imgur touts some impressive stats: 130 million uniques per month, 5 billion monthly page views, 1.5 million images uploaded each day, and 10 minutes average visit time. Yet despite its killer engagement, the website has remained simple—perhaps too simple. The five-year-old company barely launched analytics earlier this year, and on Thursday, it added the site's first discovery feature: tags.

Web 2.0 ushered in tags in the early 2000s, making Imgur about a decade late to the trend. "The theory of 'You should like it' holds up very, very well," founder and CEO Alan Schaaf told Fast Company. He explained that the company hasn't released any discovery features until now because it has always focused on showing only the most popular images on the web. But when the community began asking for ways to avoid images it didn't want to see, Imgur decided to build a tag-based system to filter them out. As with its posts, users can upvote and downvote tags.

With this addition, users can filter out images associated with certain tags (for Schaaf, that's #politics) or browse specific ones more in depth. In addition, they can create custom galleries based on tags. "Moral of the story is we wanted to create a way of browsing only what you want, if that's what you want to do," Schaaf said. "Of course, you can continue to browse just the most viral images."

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Rather than taking a machine-learning approach, Imgur is relying on its community to identify the subject matter of its images. "We have a really good idea of what these images are purely because our users are telling us," noted Schaaf, but he said it's possible down the line the company might utilize computer vision.

As outdated as tags might sound, the feature is the latest pillar to Imgur's monetization strategy. When the company launched analytics in January, it positioned itself as a platform for brands to track the reach of their marketing campaigns. Imgur is also inking more sponsorship deals, and one of its latest partners leveraged its custom galleries feature. To promote the upcoming buddy cop movie Let's Be Cops, 20th Century Fox ran a photo contest using custom galleries to gather all images tagged #letsbecopscontest. More broadly, tags will be Imgur's key to selling targeted advertising, so it can run ads against its most popular images—and thus the most popular ones on the Internet—related to a specific theme or subject. "So you can imagine, if some soccer brand wanted to advertise on all soccer images related to the World Cup, we know what those images are," Schaaf said, illustrating the potential.

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