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Spurred by Neil and I in a comment discussion in this question on SO, I would like to know what the moderators think about the use of images on Stack Overflow.

My position on this is pretty clear so I won't repeat myself. With SO supposedly being a low-bandwidth site, are images encouraged or discouraged? If I see a post with an embedded image, should I replace it with a link?


Here's the transcript of the discussion for those too lazy to click the above link:

Neil: And by the way, I get really annoyed by people that post graphical IMG links that render without my permission on SO, which is explicitly intended to be low bandwidth. Some of us are paying for these bits - in future, please just provide a normal URL.

Welbog: Why wouldn't you just turn images off then, Neil?

Neil: Because sometimes I need them. I don't need any random programmer's UML designs, however. If SO degenerates into bunch of bitmaps and video clips, then include me out.

Welbog: So you would suggest the OP omit the image entirely? I think he did a good job making a small image that fits within the boundaries of the question layout. Usually users aren't even that courteous. I think you're being unnecessarily oafish.

Neil: This particular image is I suppose unexceptional, but if every post contained one?

Welbog: I don't see your point. There aren't many situations which can't be explained with words. A question about a diagram is a rare occurrence on this site. I think this is the first image I've seen in a few days on SO. Possibly weeks. It's definitely not a trend, and if it grows to a trend then you should disable images if it's that much of a concern.

Neil: The time to nip things is proverbialy at the bud. And as for examples of gratuitous images, I see them every day. Look at all the book recommendations that feel the need to post completely useless, uninformative bitmaps of the cover!

Welbog: You nip problems in the bud, Neil. Your bandwidth concern is a problem local to you and probably very few others. I definitely think we ought to encourage users like SimpleThings to post images in this kind of situation, as long as the image is well cropped (otherwise it should be linked) and relevant to the question (unlike images of book covers). I suspect that Jeff and the other moderators would agree with this as well. I maintain that if you have bandwidth concerns you should resolve them yourself rather than asking the sites you visit to solve them for you.

Along with a little side discussion between Gortok and Neil:

Gortok: Agreed. In this day and age, it's inconceivable that the cost of loading one image would be so much that you'd complain about it, but not just turn off images. The image included in the homework question made me more likely to answer it.

Neil: "it's inconceivable that the cost of loading one image would be so much that you'd complain about it" - from that I assume you do not live in the UK, and are not currently unemployed.

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Tune in next time for another exciting episode of "As The Welbog Lasers" –  TheTXI Jul 24 '09 at 19:26
    
Shut up and answer the question, O Moderator TXI. –  XMLbog Jul 24 '09 at 19:27
    
Heh, that image is blocked by my proxy anyway. –  mmyers Jul 24 '09 at 19:28
    
I'm still not a mod on this site. –  TheTXI Jul 24 '09 at 19:29
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Please avoid posting egregious block quotes as the extra bytes put my current bandwidth pivoting near the edge. If I wanted to read the conversation I would click the link you already provided. –  Ian Elliott Jul 24 '09 at 19:41
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Quiet you. –  XMLbog Jul 24 '09 at 19:41
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@Ian: Likewise, besides the bandwidth concerns, my video card and monitor have to work harder (thus consuming more power) to render different colours. If everything could be one colour, that would help a lot. –  ajm Jul 24 '09 at 19:46
    
I feel like that last part between Gortok and Neil is irrelevant. –  devinb Jul 24 '09 at 19:47
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9 Answers 9

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I personally have no problem with images on StackOverflow or any of the other sites as long as the image is not screwing up the layout and is actually relevant to the question (unfortunately that means I myself can't spam up my topics with random pictures of cute miniature equines).

Often times I wish there were more images on the site, screenshots of screwy behavior and such. Often times a visual of an error is a lot easier for someone to recognize (since they have seen it before in the wild) than it is for someone to recognize a bug or error that is copy/pasted or described textually.

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+1 - the more images the better...especially on SU. –  ajm Jul 24 '09 at 19:38
    
The problem is that as the site ages more and more of the image links are showing as not found, exceeds bandwidth, etc. Even if an image is provided, there should also be an accompanying text description of what the image shows. It would use even more precious bytes. –  Bratch Jan 7 '10 at 23:06
    
One more side note (about the precious bytes): there are still people around here who don't get the difference between JPEG compression and a lossless one like PNG. Using JPEG for low-colour images like screenshots of pages containing (only) text will usually result in larger files and an awful artifacts. –  Marcel Korpel Aug 3 '10 at 8:54
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I think that images are a net positive on the site. While there is a the (small, IMHO) issue of increased bandwidth and load times, a screenshot or visual diagram can be much more effective at conveying information than straight text. In other words, if an image helps illustrate your question or answer, include it.

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...there are, of course, exceptions. :) –  Bill the Lizard Jul 24 '09 at 19:47
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This would be an awesome way to really screw with people trying to edit your post. –  TheTXI Jul 24 '09 at 19:50
    
(-1) I think that putting in gratuitous and/or redundant images should be discouraged, because, as the currently maligned neil pointed out, the site is supposed to be lightweight. –  devinb Jul 24 '09 at 19:53
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@devinb: Do as I say, and not as I do. ;-) –  Kyle Cronin Jul 24 '09 at 19:53
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Wow. That's beautiful. That might be my favorite answer ever. +billion –  Nosredna Jul 24 '09 at 19:55
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@TheTXI: oh yeah? –  Shog9 Jul 24 '09 at 19:56
    
The images are both blocked here. What do they say? (And that's one argument against posting them, too.) –  mmyers Jul 24 '09 at 20:31
    
@mmyers: modos.org is blocked? what did I ever do to them? (in any case, I've fleshed out the alt text so you can still see the message) –  Kyle Cronin Jul 24 '09 at 20:52
    
@devinb: links to the site being meant to be lightweight? –  John Saunders Jul 24 '09 at 20:53
    
@Kyle Cronin: I think it's whitelist-based. I'm a little surprised that all four SO sites get through, actually. –  mmyers Jul 24 '09 at 21:09
    
+1 for including alt text. –  Andrew Grimm Aug 13 '10 at 12:37
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There's an "embed image" tool right in the editor toolbar, so I don't see how anyone could get the idea that images are discouraged. It would be a lot more annoying to me if someone referred to an image that I had to open in a separate tab to view, then flip back-and-forth between the text and the image. Just embed the image in the page and let individual users turn off images if they have a bandwidth problem.

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This aligns with what I was thinking as well. It certainly seems that all of the responses and votes here are along these lines, too. I'm really hoping to know Jeff's position on it, though. –  XMLbog Jul 24 '09 at 19:45
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I personally think that images are worth way more than a thousand words and there are times that its hard to verbalize the technical elements of things when a picture represents it fully. Specifically UI layout types of issues.

The only images that load that would concern me would be those that are NSFW, but I'm sure that the mods wouldn't let that sit very long and the user would find themselves in the penalty box...

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RE: NSFW images: You are correct, sir. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 24 '09 at 19:48
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I love the book cover images. I can scan those about 10 times faster than I can read the titles. So it might cost me some bytes, but it saves me time.

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Reading books is for liberal elitists. If it's not on the dust jacket, it doesn't need to be read... –  Shog9 Jul 24 '09 at 19:50
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I'm waiting for the movie about the book cover. –  Nosredna Jul 24 '09 at 19:52
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@shog9 - "I'm sorry, I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitist, telling us what is or isn't true or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was built in 1914? If I want to say it was built in 1941, that's my right as an American! I'm with the President. Let history decide what did or did not happen." ~ Stephen Colbert –  Rob Allen Jul 24 '09 at 19:54
    
I have deleted my comment out of embarrassment :( No idea what I was thinking when I typed that one up. –  Ian Elliott Jul 24 '09 at 19:54
    
You booger. Now my comment makes no sense. –  Nosredna Jul 24 '09 at 19:56
    
I have deleted my own comment in protest. –  Nosredna Jul 24 '09 at 19:57
    
Now I come out on top once again! –  Ian Elliott Jul 24 '09 at 20:00
    
I'll get you next time. I swear it! –  Nosredna Jul 24 '09 at 20:03
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Well, we should probably consider filtering image tags from page requests originating in 3rd-world countries like the UK...

But normally, i think images are fine. With the exception of semi-useless questions like those for books and cartoons, images have been rather rare on SO. And personally, i'd rather see a short description and an image used in a question on, say, rendering difficulties over a long, drawn-out attempt to describe the problem using only text.

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I must admit I have been guilty of adding images to some of my answers, usually the ones that involve any kind of graphing or image processing routines (like this one and this one). In such cases, images can be much more helpful than just the code needed to create them.

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Why are you guilty then? –  mmyers Jul 24 '09 at 20:24
    
...because he added the images. Guilty of adding images. –  ajm Jul 24 '09 at 20:47
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...guilty of doing what some view as "bandwidth abuse", although I think it was perfectly acceptable (even beneficial) behavior. –  gnostradamus Jul 25 '09 at 3:59
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Images are bad? Somebody better tell VonC.

Edit: In all seriousness, the reason I mention VonC is that a large portion of his reputation was gained by posting informative answers with illustrations. If I ever have a question about Eclipse, I know I can come to SO and find a post by VonC that tells and shows me what to do.

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... completely missed that answer! Although, I might add to your edit that I have upped my game lately (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19478/the-many-memes-of-meta/…): with answers like stackoverflow.com/questions/2305097/installation-of-eclipse/… or stackoverflow.com/questions/2437409/git-merge-command/…. –  VonC Mar 13 '10 at 22:05
    
@VonC: So I see. What's next? Video tutorials in full 3-D? –  mmyers Mar 13 '10 at 22:42
    
where did I put those darned 3D glasses? But the "Video tutorial" part seems interesting. I will think about it while reading wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:Tutorials/Resources/… ;) –  VonC Mar 14 '10 at 12:41
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Thanks to our awesome friends at http://imgur.com we now have built in image uploads, via the standard image upload button.

hosted image UI

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