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The Anti-Social Network

Alan Schaaf transformed a simple file uploader into a viral content empire. Now he has to turn Imgur into a business.

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The first thing you notice at Imgur’s new San Francisco office are the giraffes. They’re everywhere: inflatable giraffes, posters of kissing giraffes, a massive mural of a giraffe donning a monocle and top hat. “That’s our mascot, Imgurafe,” says 27-year-old founder and CEO Alan Schaaf. “It started as an April Fool’s joke when we added a giraffe theme to the site for a day and got e-mails for six months begging us to bring it back.”

For Imgur—the Web host of most of the Internet’s memes, GIFs, jokes and tropes—the giraffe is a perfect mascot: strange, awkward and huge. Each month Imgur (pronounced “imager”) attracts more than 150 million unique visitors, more than 5.5 billion page views and 45 million new images. Since 2009, when Schaaf built the site in his Ohio University dorm, Imgur has become the default launchpad where content is uploaded before blasting off across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and the blogosphere.

But Imgur is increasingly shifting from being an image host to a prime destination of its own.

Roughly 30% of its audience (largely young and geeky) now views content directly on the Imgur home page and mobile app.

That trend helped Schaaf raise $40 million from the venture capitalists at Andreessen Horowitz in April 2014, after bootstrapping the site for its first five years. “It’s an incredible community,” says Andreessen partner Lars Dalgaard.

“Users are building meaningful relationships with people they might not ever see and are finding people that they have more in common with than anyone at work or school.”

Imgur now has to start making real money of all that traffic while dealing with a social network unlike Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Imgur’s content isn’t shaped by friends or follows. Everyone sees the same images on the home page, ranked by popular vote. Top posts can get thousands of comments and tens of thousands of votes. “Imgur is a shared experience,” says Schaaf. “I don’t see posts because I follow a certain person but because it was voted up through a democracy.”

Navigating the site feels like channel surfing on public access television: a GIF of a bear playing in hay; a tutorial on how to use a battery and gum wrapper to start a campfire; a visual story of how one Imgur user helped another Photoshop away surgical stitches in a photo of her grandfather. “It’s impossible to go on Imgur for less than five minutes,” says Schaaf. “It’s true discovery. You start without wanting to see something in particular but find stuff you like every single time.”

Schaaf knows what the Imgur horde loves because he is one of them. As a shy and introverted kid growing up outside of Tampa, Fla., he moved to Ohio at age 10 and found his community on Web forums for games such as World of Warcraft. In high school he helped run the student IT support team and the school’s website.

As a computer science major at Ohio University he got into college radio, hosting a tech talk show and spinning electronic music: “I like to sit in my room, and I communicate out.”

Around this time he got heavily involved in another platform—the massive Web bulletin board Reddit. He loved the site but hated the tedious process of uploading images.

“It wasn’t Reddit’s problem but the Internet’s problem,” says Schaaf. “I thought, ‘I can do better.’” Schaaf, at the time a college junior, built an upload tool in two months. It was simple and sparse and could turn pictures into Web links with the press of a button. He shared his project with Reddit. It took off – and crashed. He moved to a larger Web-hosting service – it crashed that, too. He burned through four server sites before eventually turning it over to Amazon Web Services. “I had no experience handling traffic, but I had to learn. If I didn’t fix it then, Imgur wouldn’t exist,” says Schaaf, who credits Imgur’s survival on the self-reliance he had learned from his mom, Jean Hoyt. “She built her own company [real estate appraisal], and when something breaks in the house, like, ‘We need a new toilet,’ she installs it.”

Small ads on Imgur covered server fees and the occasional pizza through graduation. Schaaf shrugged off job offers from Facebook and Google to move home and run Imgur out of his bedroom. By 2010 Schaaf was making enough to rent an apartment and hire Matt Strader (an M.B.A. student whom Schaaf met through an Ohio University investment fund) to focus on the business side. In 2011, with Imgur getting 30 million monthly uniques, Schaaf and Strader (now Imgur’s COO) moved to San Francisco and hired four employees.

That number has grown to 45 since the $40 million venture round last spring. Schaaf says he’ll hit 90 employees by the end of the year as Imgur attracts a more mainstream audience through its new iOS app, launched in March.

Plans are afoot to jump to Web-connected TVs.

Says Andreessen Horowitz’s Lars Dalgaard: “This is amazing content that is not being seen by even a percent of the people who’d be elated and ecstatic if they knew it existed.”

The bulk of Imgur’s revenue today comes from the single ad on each page. To fuel more growth, Imgur is building an in-house agency that will create and publish branded images, so-called native ads, designed for viral sharing. Schaaf says these ads will mesh with the style and tastes of the site. Test campaigns for films and games (Grand Theft Auto V) were a hit with users, with some ads getting liked and shared by an average of 4% of the audience. Imgur must tread lightly. Online clans, especially those emboldened by their anonymity, can protest viciously about commercials in their feeds. “The most valuable thing about Imgur is the community,” says Schaaf. “Only we can take the community away.”

Technology

Where The Medium’s The Topic And The Topic is Topical

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UJ, 4IR, and the CloudebateTM concept

UJ is the University of Johannesburg. 4IR is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. CloudebateTM? Well – it’s a place where really interesting questions are asked, such as: is the academic thesis a thing of the past? Have books outlived their physical form? Are we witnessing the demise of childhood? Will eye-tracking, sip and puff, or exoskeletons lead to true equality of opportunity? Will society change Africa? Will Africa help change society? Will education teach our children what they really need to know? And if so, how?

As 4IR sweeps the world, sending many preconceptions, predilections, and presuppositions tumbling as it goes, UJ sees the asking of questions like these as a fundamental response. And it’s responding because, since 2013, when it first embarked on its strategy of global excellence and stature, the university saw a clear need to take the lead in exploring the applications, implications and potential of 4IR. What’s more, it saw a need to do this not just as part of its positioning as a thought-leader on the continent, but as part of making a proactive and positive contribution towards African society, education and enablement.

A vision of width, a platform of depth

It’s a significant vision, and as part realising it, UJ has been investigating new and challenging ways, not just of identifying the issues at stake, but of presenting them in depth. It sought a way that would bring medium and content, idea and action, debate and initiative, together on one unique platform.

And that unique platform, one that UJ has not only created, but given a unique name to as well, is the CloudebateTM

The CloudebateTM

The CloudebateTM has essentially taken the traditional debate/panel discussion and reimagined it, placing it firmly within the realm of its own 4IR scope, and using the latest live-streaming technology. It is the place where 4IR ideas that have been identified as relevant, meaningful, challenging and thought-provoking are placed before an expert panel as well as an online audience who are invited to participate in real time, online, in a very 4IR way, in the discussion, analysis and dissection.  

There have been seven Cloudebates held so far, and their names provide an insight into their capacity to provoke thought: The Way Tomorrow Works; Digitally Equal; Is 4IR the Demise of Childhood? Questioning the Answers; Obsolete or Absolute? Should Books be Shelved? Adding Muscle to Open Doors.

When thought is action

It’s all about the kind of world we are creating for our children to inhabit. What will the elimination of jobs do to society? Are children growing directly into the immediacy of adulthood? Are academic theses outdated? Are libraries passé? Can technology enable opportunity equally for all?

The digital reach has been immense, not just in South Africa but globally, where it has found a worldwide audience. Moreover, UJ’s CloudebateTM initiative is set to continue into 2020 with further challenges to our received wisdom, our perceived way of doing things. So, if you have any stimulating 4IR topics that you would like to see discussed, send them to [email protected] – UJ would love to hear from you. And if you’d like to see the discussions that have already taken place, then just go to uj.ac.za/4IR, where you can watch, and take a view of your own.

Creating tomorrow

With its innovative CloudebateTM concept, UJ’s pursuit of global excellence has been a most rewarding journey that will continue to develop and expand along with 4IR, and along with UJ’s ongoing commitment to creating tomorrow.

Content provided by the University of Johannesburg

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Technology

Facebook Is Still Leaking Data More Than One Year After Cambridge Analytica

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Facebook said late Tuesday that roughly 100 developers may have improperly accessed user data, which includes the names and profile pictures of individuals in certain Facebook Groups.

The company explained in a blog post that developers primarily of social media management and video-streaming apps retained the ability to access Facebook Group member information longer than the company intended.

The company did not detail the type of data that was improperly accessed beyond names and photos, and it did not disclose the number of users affected by the leak.

Facebook restricted its developer APIs—which provide a way for apps to interface with Facebook data—in April 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke the month before. The goal was to reduce the way in which developers could gather large swaths of data from Facebook users.

But the company’s sweeping changes have been relatively ineffective. More than a year after the company restricted API access, the company continues to announce newly discovered data leaks.

“Although we’ve seen no evidence of abuse, we will ask them to delete any member data they may have retained and we will conduct audits to confirm that it has been deleted,” Facebook said in a statement.

The social media giant says in its announcement that it reached out to 100 developer partners who may have improperly accessed user data and says that at least 11 developer partners accessed the user data within the last 60 days.

Facebook has been reviewing the ways that companies are able to collect information and personal data about its users since the New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of millions of users. Facebook later said the firm connected to the Trump campaign may have improperly accessed data on 87 million users.

The Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine as a result of the breach. As part of the 20-year agreement both parties reached, Facebook now faces new guidelines for how it handles privacy leaks.

“The new framework under our agreement with the FTC means more accountability and transparency into how we build and maintain products,” Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, wrote in a Facebook post.

“As we work through this process we expect to find examples like the Groups API of where we can improve; rest assured we are committed to this work and supporting the people on our platform.”

Michael Nuñez

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