Most people with a need to describe Imgur do it like this: Imgur is Reddit's favorite image host. Reddit, an enormous website with millions of users, doesn't provide a way to publish images. Imgur was started by a user to fill that niche, and it did.
So this comes as surprising news: Imgur, according to the site's internal numbers and to Alexa, is now larger than Reddit. By a lot, actually: Reddit's internal numbers put it at about 70 million unique visitors a month; Imgur's claim 100 million. Again: Imgur, which basically grew out of Reddit, is now bigger than Reddit.
Growth has been steady, according to Imgur COO Matt Strader and founder Alan Schaaf, who operate Imgur independently. Two years ago the site was hovering around 30 million people a month. After a long period of steady grown and a 30% surge last month, its 100 million monthly unique visitors click on about 2 billion images a day.
More surprising is the manner in which visitors are arriving. Direct visits to the site account for about 30% of visitors, a very close second to Reddit referrals. Schaaf attributes some of this to Imgur's role as an image upload service — in the process of uploading, you would likely visit the site directly. But image views far outpace uploads, and there's evidence that users are treating Imgur as a destination rather than a simple image host. Or, to put it another way, they're treating it as a Reddit alternative. (Or a fully user-generated BuzzFeed alternative — the site lets users post headlines and captions in such a way that image galleries can become, in essence, full posts.)
Superficially, at least, Imgur seems to skew a little younger than Reddit. There's a strain of Tumblr's social justice ethos in the community, and what feels like a fairly even gender distribution — at the very least, it doesn't feel like quite as much of a boys' club. You can read more on that here.
It's sillier too, as you might expect from a site built around joke images. "It's a big competition to get the best comments of the day," says Schaaf. Which usually means making a pun, or a joke, and quickly (comments are limited in length and top comments are displayed on the homepage each day).
Imgur also has a fairly clear revenue plan; the campaign for Grand Theft Auto V extended to Imgur in the form of sponsored images, and the site, which has 10 employees and is not backed by venture capital, is profitable (though Schaaf would not disclose exact numbers). Its creators now speak openly about "native content" and "tired banner approaches," signaling a willingness to chase revenue in a way that Reddit, which is still not profitable, has vocally resisted. Contrast:
• Reddit's latest blog post: "We value our independence more than money."
• Imgur's founders: "As Imgur continues to generate more unique visitors and daily image views, the service becomes an attractive partner for brands."