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Fixing the Visual Web: Lessons From a Six Year Quest


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Presented at FITC Toronto 2017
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Chris Zacharias

As one of the first front end developers at YouTube, Chris noticed a problem. The way we serve images online was broken. We designed it for a web that was text-heavy, desk-bound and bandwidth-rich. But the web was changing. Visuals dominated, even as displays fragmented, mobile flourished and bandwidth-crunched wireless became many people’s primary connection.

The answers available no longer fit the real problems. So Chris founded a company to fix it — imgix. Fast forward six years later, imgix has grown from “coffee table web servers” to a service that handles billions of images daily. In this session, imgix CEO, Chris Zacharias will share the story of building the service that companies like Reddit, Foursquare, and Dropbox use to serve visuals, and reveal some of the lessons he learned along the way.


Gain perspective what it takes to build a company to tackle a hard problem, and insight into what’s coming next on the visual web

Target Audience

Entrepreneurs, would-be entrepreneurs and anyone interested in what it takes to tackle visual experience on the web

Five Things Audience Members Will Learn

Why images almost did not make it into the first versions of the web
Why images, not video, were one of the biggest problems in the early days of YouTube
Lessons from building one of the first at-scale HTML5 video players
What you need to know before you leave a big company to found a startup
What comes next — the flexible, responsive web we’re heading toward

Published in: Internet
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Fixing the Visual Web: Lessons From a Six Year Quest

  1. 1. Fixing the Visual Web Lessons From a Six Year Quest Chris Zacharias
  2. 2. CEO and Founder of imgix Web Developer at YouTube RIT New Media FITC 2005 Attendee
  3. 3. Our story begins with an image…
  4. 4. TIFF Format 113 MBs 300 dpi CMYK Color
  5. 5. “I just wish I had Save For Web for a million images.”
  6. 6. What would that even look like?
  7. 7. Interface ViewerNetwork ApplicationStorageSubject Camera Image Display How visual media on the web has always worked.
  8. 8. 250M 500M 750M 1.00B 1.25B 1.50B 1.75B 2.00B 2.25B 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Analog Cameras Digital Cameras Cellphone Cameras 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 PCs Smartphones Tablets Smart TVs Smart Watches Cameras Displays Then mobile happened… Inflection point Inflection point Source: Statista/Gartner
  9. 9. One can no longer predict where, why, or how your visual media will be displayed.
  10. 10. WebP2x25Kb @ q=85% Network Analysis Device Analysis Image Analysis and Processing Optimal Image To keep up, visual media has to become dynamic.
  11. 11. Interface ViewerNetwork ApplicationStorageSubject Camera Image ? Display Output needs to be driven by signals from the environment.
  12. 12. “We should build a computer graphics card for the Internet.”
  13. 13. “Why does this not exist already? What changed?” ~ every investor
  14. 14. Visual media is moving closer and closer to our brains.
  15. 15. Visual media is moving closer and closer to our brains.
  16. 16. Movie Screen 1920’s Television 1950’s Computer 1980’s 30 ft 8 ft 3 ft Distance of Screen to Brain
  17. 17. Tablet 2010’s VR Headset 2015 Laptop 2000’s er 2 ft 1 ft 4 in
  18. 18. The Web has become the primary conduit of visual media.
  19. 19. Other 0% HTML 2% Scripts 17% Styles 3% Fonts 4% Video 8% Images 66% Over 80% of the average web page is visual media. Source:
  20. 20. The Web was never designed for visual media.
  21. 21. The <img> tag was nearly scrapped right at the start.
  22. 22. Other media types were unaccounted for until ~2010. The first YouTube HTML5 <video> player.
  23. 23. A layer cake of technologies and shims persists today. HTML Document Javascript Loader <canvas> Element Javascript Logic WebGL Context glShader How 3D works in the browser.
  24. 24. Web technologies still take their cues from print media.
  25. 25. We need to advance the Web as a graphics platform. (Just… not like VRML)
  26. 26. Infrastructure is just the beginning. Browsers, software, and services are next.
  27. 27. We need to explore new metaphors. Window DOM Document Elements Styles Scripts ??? Scene Scene Graph Stage Actors Properties Scripts and Behaviors Timeline
  28. 28. We cannot lose the best parts of the Web. •View Source means anyone can learn. •Browser is the development environment. •Preserve indexing and searchability. •Accessibility. •HTTP resource loading is awesome.
  29. 29. Flash was a critical evolutionary step.
  30. 30. Thank you. Chris Zacharias