Imgur is little more than a simple way to share images online, and yet it has quietly grown into a huge community rivaling any social network in scale. It's become the backbone of our visual puns, host of our GIFs, and the safe harbour of our memes.
Alan Schaaf founded the company in 2009 while still in college for the self-evident purpose of sharing images online, building the site himself while studying computer science. Now that he has a team of engineers at his disposal, the site has bloomed with recently updated Android and iOS apps, efficient GIF-transcoding, and more. We spoke with Alan to learn a bit about his workflow at Imgur.
Current Gig: Founder & CEO of Imgur
One word that best describes how you work:Zone
Current mobile device:Nexus 5
Current computer (and what OS is it running?):"Blade" laptop by Razer, dual booting Windows 8 and Ubuntu. When not on my laptop, I work on a custom built PC with three Dell ultra-sharp monitors.
What apps, software or tools can't you live without? Why?
I can't live without my plain 3-inch x 5-inch Moleskines. I have about 30 of them scattered throughout the office and home, filled with meeting notes, private thoughts and random to-dos throughout the day. Each week I go through all of them and take pictures of every page I don't want to forget about, and then file the pictures away in Evernote. This really helps reduce my stress levels. I don't have to worry much about forgetting to do something because I always wrote it down, and I always know where to go back and look at my notes.
What's your workspace setup like?
I really enjoy working from different places and around different people, so I usually float around with my laptop from place to place while in the office. However, I have a special room that I dubbed "The Cave" that's completely private, has dimmed lighting, comfy furniture, and looks a bit like an old whisky lounge. That's probably my favourite area of the Imgur office because it allows me to get in the zone and concentrate.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I use Google Keep for small notes when I don't have my Moleskine on me, and Wunderlist for bigger to-do items that need to be kept track of.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
A simple watch. I used to use my phone for keeping track of the time, but when you're in meetings or interviews, it's not appropriate. A watch is just so much easier, and keeps me on time throughout the day.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
Grilling steak, and nice try on stealing my secrets.
Imgur is practically the backbone of some sites now — how do you feel about that?
Imgur has become its own community. Over the years, Imgur quickly evolved from a simple image host and today, Imgur is a massive, global community of Imgurians. I might be biased, but Imgur is pretty different from anything else out there. Millions of people are on Imgur everyday to express themselves and browse through an endless stream of visual stories from people around the world — people who they don't even know! There isn't another place on the Internet where you can experience that kind of serendipity and discover visual stories that make you learn something unexpected, feel uplifted or supported, or simply make you laugh.
I think the GIFv format is great, but some people really seem reluctant to switch to a MP4-based format. Do you think old fashioned GIFs will always be around despite being the less efficient option?
Yes, I do, and that's exactly how it should be. GIFs (pronounced like "jif") have a lot of great qualities. They're self-contained muted looping little pieces of instant gratification that work everywhere. They're almost perfect. Where GIFs fall short is they're quality and filesize. We created GIFv to provide a high-quality alternative to the GIF that keeps the file down, and immediately starts playing before it's even downloaded all the way. This means that when you browse Imgur, the experience is much faster and looks better than it otherwise would. It also allows us to do some pretty exciting things with GIFs in our mobile apps. However, for every day sharing outside of Imgur, the regular GIF is still great and GIFv wasn't meant to be a complete replacement.
What do you listen to while you work?
I have a subscription to di.fm and am hooked on their Trance channel. I'd never work without it.
What are you currently reading?
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
How do you recharge?
I recharge by listening to di.fm and being on my computer without interruptions.
What's your sleep routine like?
It's always been much easier for me to focus at night, so I used to go to bed late and wake up late. However, having a normal working schedule has turned that around. Now I'm sad to say I'm usually in bed by 11pm.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Neil deGrasse Tyson.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Trust your gut.
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.