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I saw that this answer now has a single hot linked 8 MB GIF.

If I understand correctly, anyone viewing this page will have their device sent to Wikipedia to download the image promptly.

8M isn't a lot for most people, but we have many people viewing the site on phones (both using the app and from browsers) who have low data rates and some with very limited data plans.

Four 2MB pngs using imgur already gets to 8 MB so I don't think this crosses a line, but a 100 MB hot linked GIF could devastate some user's data allowance for a month. We have readers from all over the planet. I've done this in the past and received several complaints, so I try to switch to JPGs or use the imgur resizing feature which can display smaller images while allowing a clickable full-sized option.

  1. Is hot linking to images in Wikipedia okay for medium sized images, as long as they aren't "too large" (see item #2)
  2. What's a reasonable size cutoff for hot linked images, at what point would a GIF be considered unacceptably large and impolite to hot link in a post?
  3. Is hot linking to images hosted on random sites besides Wikipedia okay as long as they are not "too large" (see item #2)
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Still images

The stack exchange imgur upload limits images to 2MB, and I think that we should stick to that.

  • High resolution images can be re-sized, as they would have to fit inside a SE post anyway.
  • Vector graphics can be converted to raster graphics for imgur upload.
  • Lossy compression can be used to further reduce the size of raster graphics.

From my tests, any still image can be uploaded to imgur using the above steps, without a too large loss in quality.

Link rot is a major problem on the internet, and Stack Exchange answers are meant to be accessible even years after they were posted. If one still desires to make the full image available, it can be provided as an additional link.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think converting vector graphics to raster is a good idea; it usually makes the file bigger. But I agree with the rest of the answer. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Sep 25 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon the primary reason for converting vector graphics isn't to make it smaller, you are right it usually inflates the size. The reason for doing it is that Imgur does not support SVG uploads. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Sep 25 at 20:47
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Animations

Animations add some value, which varies greatly. They also come with some disadvantages, in this case size.

We can not proceed in a way that decreases the value of an answer. General checklist:

  1. If the animation adds no value, it should be removed regardless of size or hosting.
  2. Find a better replacement (you can even make one yourself). Anyone can edit, and this is is the only course of action that increases the value of the answer. A still image or diagram may just as often be better than an animation.
  3. If the animation is hosted on another site, but fits within the Imgur gif upload, it should be re-hosted.
  4. In some cases, a gif can be optimised with little or no loss in quality.
  5. Replace with a link, and optionally a still frame. This adds some inconvenience, but will often greatly reduce the bandwidth cost.

Is hot linking to images in Wikipedia okay for medium sized images, as long as they aren't "too large"[?]

If it adds value. But see if the disadvantages can be dealt with in any of the above ways, or the corresponding ways for still images.

What's a reasonable size cutoff for hot linked images, at what point would a GIF be considered unacceptably large and impolite to hot link in a post?

Any image above the Imgur 2MB limit is a likely candidate to be improved by any of the above ways. Low data caps are typically a couple of gigabytes, and we should not hog more than a fraction of that. I personally don't see any case where 5) (replace with link) should not be done for a gif over 20MB.

Is hot linking to images hosted on random sites besides Wikipedia okay as long as they are not "too large"[?]

Again, if it adds value. It comes with some disadvantages, but as long as none of them makes it a no-go, forbidding them does not add value to the site.

  • Security implications: images are sandboxed by browsers, and any breach of this would be a top priority bug for all browser vendors. The only information provided to the external site is that the image was requested by some IP from this site. This is usually considered okay.

  • Link rot: images on other sites may disappear or be removed. This is a disadvantage.

Replace with an Imgur upload if possible, as that gets rid of those disadvantages.

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    $\begingroup$ thanks for the thorough answer! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 25 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ "it should be re-hosted" uhhh... subject to copyright $\endgroup$ – JCRM Sep 26 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JCRM Of course. (reminds me that SE is still completely silent about the licensing issue) $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Sep 27 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ well, the add image dialogue is quite clear "User contributions licensed under cc by-sa 4.0 with attribution required (content policy)" - so... If you don't own the copyright, you can't (by uploading) relicense it. -- but that isn't SE's problem, it's Imgur's $\endgroup$ – JCRM Sep 27 at 9:40

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