For grizzled forum warriors who remember the days of crubs, fents, and burshes, this will sound all too familiar. Another source of information is preparing to shut off the taps. Image hosting site Imgur recently announced that it will be deleting a bunch of old photos starting May 15, and that could make wrenching at home a little bit more difficult. So is Imgur torching the Library of Alexandria? Not entirely, but there’s still cause for concern.
According to Imgur, not all images will be deleted. The latest update to the company’s Terms of Service claims specifically that “We will be focused on removing old, unused, and inactive content that is not tied to a user account from our platform.”
If you ported over your forum username to upload pictures, your images are theoretically safe. However, lots of people didn’t sign up for user accounts and instead just posted photos. More dedicated and tech-savvy users may have created Imgur profiles, but part of the platform’s appeal is that it was ridiculously easy for anyone and everyone to easily upload pictures that could be embedded on internet forums. Needless to say, we’ve reached out to Imgur for clarification on what constitutes “unused” and “inactive” images, but there’s a chance this could be a bigger problem than we expect.
Part of the problem is frequency bias – if a problem occurs often enough to be common and it happens on a relatively plentiful platform, chances are that multiple people across multiple platforms have documented repairs. However, fixes for obscure problems or cars that aren’t thick on the ground may only have one or two threads documenting repairs. It’s these threads that are most at risk of disappearing should a photo host decide to shut off the taps.
We’ve already seen something like this when Photobucket decided to discontinue free hosting in 2017. Suddenly, a whole bunch of visual aids for fixing everything from imported Nissan Pulsar Gti-Rs to clapped-out Land Rover Discovery 2s disappeared from forums as people just didn’t want to pay for hosting. However, most images themselves weren’t actually vaporized. Presumably in the hopes of account retention, Photobucket held onto a bunch of photos and quick-thinking independent coders wrote browser extensions to fix the broken embeds. However, Imgur’s strategy means it might not be possible to bring disappearing embedded images back out of the ether.
One way to wrench with the aid of images if forum threads go dead is to buy a proper service manual. I’m not talking about a Haynes or Chilton manual you can grab from a bookstore or your local library, but instead something more in-depth like a Bentley manual or a factory service manual. However, these are often expensive, and not everyone can afford to drop three figures on repair literature. Another solution depending on manufacturer is to pay for online technical information system (TIS) access and download what you need. Toyota will sell you TIS access for as little as $25 for two days of access, and it’s theoretically possible to just download and print off whatever you need so you can easily take it out to your car. GM also offers cheap TIS access for a couple of days, while BMW’s more expensive at $32 for a one-day subscription. However, this doesn’t help very much if the company that made your car isn’t in business anymore or if your call falls outside the range of vehicles covered in the TIS. For moving images, there’s always YouTube, but the quality of YouTube tutorials varies wildly and many don’t include critical torque specs for jobs that involve powertrain parts or chassis components.
As such, there are certain DIY-ers that may be completely screwed by the deletion of certain pictures, and it might affect more than at-home wrench-slingers too. It’s not unheard-of for technicians to look up potential fixes online for particularly obscure cars that are outside their wheelhouse and the reaches of their typical TIS.
People used to say that anything put on the internet is forever, but that’s just not the case. Lost media is a very real phenomenon, and it will keep happening so long as hosting companies keep deleting user-generated content. As it stands, nothing beats physical backups, so you better get to saving images now if you’re putting off automotive fixes.
(Photo credits: Imgur, e90post, Toyota)
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I still find stuff on VWVortex that’s less than helpful because the images have been purged from Tinypic.
Well, I think I’m gonna hop over to my favourite Renault 4 forum to download all the amazing images they have of pretty much every engine maintenance/repair procedure. Not even sure where they’re hosted, but the fact is we take all these web tools for granted and they can very easily disappear or fundamentally change one day, and suddenly we’re locked out of loads of relevant content.
I truly believe that the Great Photobucket Cyber Terrorism Incident of 2017 is one of the big reasons forums died and everyone moved to Facebook groups.
And that’s a real shame, because 1) Facebook groups are not really searchable, and 2) there’s no way to identify who the knowledgeable members are and who is posting completely wrong information.
Obligatory FUCK YOU PHOTOBUCKET!
Not to shamelessly plug my own website, but my brother and I created http://www.DIYauto.com to organize and preserve as many DIY and build threads as we could, knowing stuff like this could happen. We have several thousand on the site, all of which were donated by the authors and the site re-hosts the photos. After the photobucket disaster and a few forums crashing there is a significant percentage of threads that were saved because the authors donated them to us beforehand. We also know how annoying it is to find that particular DIY when you need it so they are organized on vehicle pages to make them easy to find.
That’s actually amazing. You’re doing God’s work. Glad you posted – I had no idea your website even existed.
A majority of the stuff we have is older BMW and VW stuff since that’s what we were into but we have some crazy/oddball builds on there. It was extremely labor intensive to contact all the authors and repost the threads as well as build the site on a shoestring budget, but it’s important work. Can’t tell you how many times some random thread from 20 years ago saved my butt when wrenching on my car.
You Sirs are gentlemen and scholars!
Wow! That’s some amazing work you guys are doing. No shame in plugging such an important resource for all of us. You guys should get in touch with Clementine’s Renault 4 Garage to do a backup of their forums. That’s an amazing website with loads of DIY repair tutorials that are invaluable to the Quatrelle community worldwide, but the guy behind it is getting older and isn’t as active as he used to be.
It’s like CarBibles could have been!
Photobucket did that to forums years ago… When they went to a pay service. Whole forums posts were rendered picture less over night. Currently I’m paying photo bucket just to download all my photos 100k+ into drives to keep.
In defense of the Haynes and Chilton manuals, they’re decent for what they are, are readily obtainable, and Bentleys are available for only a fairly narrow selection of vehicles, mostly European makes.
I like the Haynes manuals for at least having pictures of the static situation, to help you locate things and er, quirks and features if you’re using text-based advice you’ve located on the internet.
Plus, I enjoy the Haynes covers, esp. the old ones with the cutaway pictures!
Another shovel of dirt on the grave of late aughts and early teens car forum life. Gosh, I miss those days.
Is there any hope that the Internet Archive has them backed up?
The Internet Archive is spotty with images. Some get saved (that helps a lot with RV history pieces) and some do not.
Not again. First I had all my imagines on Imagestation (remember that one?), and that went belly up in 2008, so I switched to photobucket. Then they started nuking all the FAQs and HowTos and that is what solidified my decision to start a youtube channel. I put so much time/effort into forum posts, only to have them wiped out and unusable due to hosting companies either shutting their doors, or changing terms, etc.
Imigur was started by someone who was fed up of Imagestation and Photobucket.
They’ve become the very thing they were trying to destroy
They sold out to a “media brand holding company” a couple years ago, so it’s safe to assume none of the founding principles remain.
Where will I find photos of replacing the tail light bulbs in my Pao now ?
Jason Torchinsky may offer that with a recurring Fine Corinthian Leather subscription.*
*Limitations may apply. Check with your local Torchinsky for terms and conditions.
“Talk to your doctor to see if Torchinsky is right for you.”
“Now available with extra lead”
This seems as cheap and petty as a Mexican restaurant deciding to stop giving out free chips and salsa because not everyone eats them. Bandwidth and storage are cheap these days; just leave old stuff sitting there, will ya?
Whadyamean not everyone eats free chips and salsa?!? Who doesn’t eat free chips and salsa?!? Not eating free chips and salsa, inconceivable! Your supposition is theoretically impossible.
I maintain that peak internet as a resource for fixing cars was 2005-2018 – back when forums were popular and before social media largely took over. As a person who just entered a new automotive community for the first time since 2012 (just bought a 2004 Toyota Sequoia) and is attempting to gain knowledge, I still find myself relying to 10+ year old forum posts to find most of the info I need, because trying to rely on things like Facebook groups is absolute garbage – poor search functionality, the same questions asked ad nauseum, etc. So the news that even more older imgur images will be going away is sad indeed.
I think you nailed it. Things also used to be heavy on the “how do to I do X?” type discussions, whereas now, it’s often “here’s what I feel about Y.”
(yeah, I know, like we’re doing right now)
The emotional, social aspect of social media seems to have overtaken the more rational, objective nature of the earlier discussions.
Interesting how our digital media era is becoming simultaneously both ephemeral and permanent, as every politician seems to find out sooner or later.
Agreed on all points. I’ve joined a number of Facebook groups for automotive purposes and found that only the most niche were of any actual use. The rest were exactly as you said, shallow knowledge pool, minimal resources, and repetitive posts. I think forums had a higher water mark strictly because it took effort to go there and create a decent post. It required some investment on your part to be involved in a community, in general. Some of my best memories from the aughts was trolling Volvo and SAAB forums trying to figure out WTF to do. Good folks there.
These days, a lot of my resources come from archived posts and YouTube videos, which don’t appear to have an expiration date…yet. But obscure DIYs, like adding a block heater to my Jeep wouldn’t have been feasible without a good post I found online that still hadn’t lost its pictures yet.
Yep, good point regarding there being some investment to be involved in a community that’s now lacking in social media groups. The current prevailing attitude seems to be to just throw a question out with zero prior research and expecting a spoonfed answer. This grinds my gears as a grizzled veteran of the internet (I’ve been active on some forums since 1999!) who prides myself on my internet research skills.
And many “bigger” forums are owned by large companies that use it only as a vehicle to sell ads and ad space. The tight knit communities of the past are simply long gone.
You also had active users and admins who actively pushed people to search the forums before posting repetitive questions. And it was easier to link to another post on the forums than social media, since you didn’t have the algorithm shuffling what it shows first.
And the algorithm can be especially frustrating because post engagement generally prioritizes that post. An argument will show up a lot more than a clean, detailed explanation.
Yep, it’s so frustrating when a knowledgable detailed post on social media gets little engagement so it basically just disappears.
Back in the day, I often thought the “do a search!!!” admonishments could seem heavy handed, but I now appreciate just how necessary they were to keeping things focused and useful.
Between ancient forums full of dead Photobucket links and only 2 active users, Facebook groups that require you to give Zucc your firstborn’s blood type and SSN, and perhaps even the worst – private Discord servers, there has never been a worse time to be a home mechanic.
I mean there probably has been a worse time, but knowing how close we were and how far we’ve fallen does sting a bit.
I mean we’re still in a better place than the days when the only resource for repair info was a vague Haynes or Chilton manual that covers 5 other car models in addition to the one you’re working on, but yeah, we’re past peak now.
If you don’t want to try that manual, your uncle’s buddy totally did this same job on a car that is pretty much exactly the same. Well, it’s not entirely dissimilar, and I definitely think the carb work he did on it will translate to your fuel-injected car. He’ll help you out for a case of beer he will polish off before he starts working on the car. He’s kind of a lightweight, but he’s got this.
At least one of the good things about the current social media era is the videos. It’s hard to totally fake something when you’re making a video of your actually doing it.
In the good ole internet days, there could be a lot of noise to wade through to find the signal, the one person who actually had the correct way vs. the 20 who were experts damnit and you just need to listen to them already and not ask pesky questions b/c they’ve been doing this since before you were born/run down single digit ETs/have driven to Tierra del Fuego and back/etc.
I’d argue that 2005-2018 or so was peak internet in general. Big enough to be useful but before it all became nothing but algorithms designed solely to generate ad revenue and collect data on you
Can’t disagree there.
You could fill a thousand Libraries of Alexandria with the specialized hobby knowledge that’s been purged from the internet over the past 10 years. It’s a true shame.