I'm a leader in a small community about pet ownership for owners in my area. We partnered with a couple pet oriented businesses to get them publicity and in turn we received some as well. Anyway, my question is regarding content storage. We host a forum that is relatively small in terms of disk space. The problem we are encountering is that our members love to share pictures of their pets (honestly, who doesn't? :) ). These pictures take of space. In fact, it's taken up so much space that we've had to purge old topics that contained pictures because we couldn't load more.

We have encouraged members to load their pictures onto an external site such as Pintrest or Imgur. Some do, some do not. They complain that it is cumbersome compared to the ability to upload directly to the forum. Others have complained that pictures hosted externally are slower to load. I, personally, don't notice this, but there have been enough complaints that I believe that there is some kind of issue.

From my point of view, though, these external hosted images are a godsend because it keeps my disk utilization down. It also means I have less to back up (saving more disk space). I'd like to recommend we move to this type of model exclusively, but I can't find enough information that supports my point of view on why this would be a positive.

Does any one have experience moving from locally stored content to externally stored content (specifically for images, but I could see video being just as important). If so, what kind of improvements (or pitfalls) did you expereince?

Thanks for your responses!

  • How much control do you have over your forum software? Could you, for example, resize the uploads to some maximum dimensions? Non-technical users are probably uploading images in the same format and size as captured by the camera, which is often quite large (so that you can print the image with good quality), but that's not needed for web. 1350x1800 is fairly common for digital cameras, but 375x500 is probably plenty large. That's what, 93% reduction in file size? – Brian S Sep 12 '14 at 20:37
  • Stack Exchange does this, and I think the keys are (a) it's built in (when you click on "upload image" it automatically goes to imgur) and (b) they've paid imgur for service that includes nothing ever getting deleted. (The free imgur service deletes images that aren't accessed for a long time.) – Monica Cellio Aug 24 '15 at 16:21

The big advantage of outsourcing content storage is that you don't have to do it yourself.

Depending on your site and what content people need to upload you could be saving yourself a lot of disk/database space - large images and movies being prime examples of this. You also don't need to create and maintain the software needed for users to upload the media, and (as you've pointed out) you don't need to back it up.

The big disadvantage is that you're not doing it yourself.

You are now at the mercy of the 3rd party hosting systems and their terms and conditions etc. If they go offline you've lost access to this data and your site may become unusable or severely disabled. You also might find that your users might not be able to upload some content because of these t&c's. Some sites also limit the length of time they hold data - unless you get an agreement with the site you might find your user's content disappearing after 6 months.

You're also at the mercy of corporate firewalls etc. that might block said 3rd party sites (for what ever reason) and leave your site in the same state - for some users - as if the hosting site was down.

You will have to do the analysis yourself to see which situation is going to give you most pain.

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