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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, 2009 at 19:26
  • Shut up and answer the question, O Moderator TXI.
    – Welbog
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:27
  • Heh, that image is blocked by my proxy anyway.
    – mmyers
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:28
  • I'm still not a mod on this site.
    – TheTXI
    Jul 24, 2009 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. Jul 24, 2009 at 19:41
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    Quiet you.
    – Welbog
    Jul 24, 2009 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. Jul 24, 2009 at 19:46
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    I feel like that last part between Gortok and Neil is irrelevant.
    – devinb
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:47

9 Answers 9

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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. Jul 24, 2009 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, 2010 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. Aug 3, 2010 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. :) Jul 24, 2009 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, 2009 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, 2009 at 19:53
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    @devinb: Do as I say, and not as I do. ;-) Jul 24, 2009 at 19:53
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    Wow. That's beautiful. That might be my favorite answer ever. +billion
    – Nosredna
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:55
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    @TheTXI: oh yeah?
    – Shog9
    Jul 24, 2009 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, 2009 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) Jul 24, 2009 at 20:52
  • @devinb: links to the site being meant to be lightweight? Jul 24, 2009 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, 2009 at 21:09
  • +1 for including alt text. Aug 13, 2010 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.
    – Welbog
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:45
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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 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. Jul 24, 2009 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, 2009 at 19:50
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    I'm waiting for the movie about the book cover.
    – Nosredna
    Jul 24, 2009 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, 2009 at 19:54
  • I have deleted my comment out of embarrassment :( No idea what I was thinking when I typed that one up. Jul 24, 2009 at 19:54
  • You booger. Now my comment makes no sense.
    – Nosredna
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:56
  • I have deleted my own comment in protest.
    – Nosredna
    Jul 24, 2009 at 19:57
  • Now I come out on top once again! Jul 24, 2009 at 20:00
  • I'll get you next time. I swear it!
    – Nosredna
    Jul 24, 2009 at 20:03
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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, 2009 at 20:24
  • ...because he added the images. Guilty of adding images. Jul 24, 2009 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. Jul 25, 2009 at 3:59
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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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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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