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Going viral with Imgur

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014
Alex Liu/stuff.co.nz

imgur.com CEO and founder Alan Schaaf is in Wellington to speak at the TEDxWellington conference this coming Sunday.

Alan Schaaf
ALEX LIU/Fairfax NZ
IMAGE MASTER: Imgur chief executive Alan Schaaf will speak at TEDxWellington this weekend. His site, set up only five years ago while he was a computer science student, gets about 4.5 billion page views a month, and has made him a multi-millionaire at age 26. 

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If you have viewed a funny picture on a social media site, chances are it came from image hosting and entertainment website Imgur.

It's where people go to browse the most popular images and share them on social media. And it seems we Kiwis go there a lot.

Imgur chief executive Alan Schaaf says New Zealand is definitely in the top 10 countries with the most users, and might even be in the top five.

The site has made Schaaf a rich man. At just 26, he is estimated to have a net worth of US$10 million (NZ$11.9m), after founding Imgur five years ago while studying computer science at Ohio University.

He is in Wellington this weekend to discuss the rapid success of the site - which gets about 4.5 billion page views a month - and the power of the internet and online communities at the TEDxWellington conference.

It is his first visit to New Zealand and he is taking some time out for sight-seeing and zorbing before getting back to business in San Francisco.

Schaaf started the site because he he wanted to make sharing images on the internet simpler. Unlike photo-sharing sites, Imgur allows users to post and share any kind of image.

"It can be a screen shot of a video game, an animated gif, a logo, a meme or something you whip up in PhotoShop," he said.

"People can express themselves better with images than just text, so they communicate more this way."

The most popular images were funny or cute, or something universal that people could relate to, he said.

Scumbag Steve - an image series featuring a guy with a sideways-fitted cap standing in a hallway - was his favourite internet meme. A meme is a repeated concept, catchphrase or image used in different scenarios.

"Everybody knows that person; he's the guy that steals the lighter and never gives it back. I feel like he is relatable."

Schaaf hopes to inspire Wellingtonians to come together on the internet to "accomplish amazing things" and get the information they needed to "change the world".

Online communities gave him the support to make Imgur happen, and he relied on them to help him with every aspect of building the site because he was just a student.

"I didn't have a load of resources to hire genius programs or designers, so the internet helped me out."

He urged people to go outside their list of friends and join an online community of strangers to seek advice. "They will be surprised at what they learn and the benefits that will come."

Imgur's growth was not slowing and the business plan was to be as big as it can be, he said.

"We didn't raise any funding for the first five years.

"Recently we raised US$40m in the first round of [venture] funding and now are longer bootstrapped, and we're profitable through advertising."

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- The Dominion Post

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