» Over 40K Served: A Bronibooru Retrospective

One of the long-running features of the family of sites that compose mlponies.com is bronibooru, the image repository that collects art from all around the fandom. You might think that all it takes to run an image repository is collecting pictures, but it’s not that easy. How did it grow from humble beginnings to holding over forty thousand images? Bronibooru administrator Westy543 details more behind the cut.

Creating an Oasis

Bronibooru is a repository of pony images. You won’t be surprised with something you wouldn’t want to see at work or school. It’s a well indexed database which means it’s easy to find an old or obscure picture. But it wasn’t always organized and indexed so well.

Back in the early days of the fandom, image boards and aggregation sites sprung up, but were hit or miss when it came to uptime and quality. Some had no active content moderation, so anything from great images could be posted, to low effort screen captures and macros, to even worse things like adult content. For a while, most just coped with spotty sites and lack of content filtering. There was griping and grousing, and someone said “Well, if you don’t like it, run one yourself,” and so we did.

Using the danbooru software as a launch point, the name “bronybooru” was suggested; with a little modification, it stuck. At the outset, the only image criteria we applied was that of no “creepy” content. Users were discouraged from posting screen captures, show gifs, and low effort image macros. Whilst rare at first, bronibooru was the first pony imageboard to support flash, MPO, and SVG formats natively, unlike its predecessor.

Few people actually signed up, but those who did were given contributor status to upload and vote as they pleased. There was some, but not much moderation. A few of the Ponygoons moderators offered to help out and moderate the booru too. It wasn’t for a while that a dedicated moderator or admin was chosen.

At first only a very slim number of tags were used – if possible, nothing beyond the character name and the artist, plus any plausible copyright tags. Many pictures uploaded had no source, just “/co/ thread” or an imgur link. Progress at first was slow—every hundred images uploaded was a big deal! Especially one thousand. But the rate of artwork posted grew over time as users uploaded images they found around the fandom, with one holding a record for nearly one hundred images uploaded and tagged/sourced in a matter of hours, occasionally pulling the entire site down in the process.

Organizing a Sea of Images

By this time it was apparent that we needed more tags to differentiate the several hundred images of Rainbow Dash from one another. The tagging policy quietly changed to allow more things in the images to be tagged—most tag discussions were handled over IRC, but things like “dress,” “hat,” “smug” and “baww” become commonplace where appropriate. Tag aliases merged similar tags, such as apple_jack to applejack. More importantly, aliases were put in place as shorthand for uploads. For example, “aj” to “applejack,” and implications such as “m6,” automatically adding tags for each of the main cast. By this time, proper sourcing was more commonplace, but still not perfect. Top-level gallery links were the most common. Users diving for a proper source to credit the artist, or a high-resolution download were sometimes subjected to 18+ content.

In a matter of months the site reached ten thousand images, and in almost half the time twenty thousand. Bandwidth was becoming more of an issue, with bronibooru at times needing to be pulled down for a week to keep the forums up. Many images had to be optimized to fit under 1 MB in size. At this point, sourcing directly to the image in a gallery was fairly standard in practice. Some artist’s galleries simply weren’t safe at all regardless, and received a warning page where necessary. The tagging policy on the other hand was growing at a substantial rate to where not all uploaders were on the same page. This began to cause problems with “well, should we use this tag, or that one?” By this time, the software’s built-in forum was opened up to discuss tags. Still, it took awhile for most uploaders to get on board with the idea.

Tag Examples

An example image showing just how helpful organized tags are.

As the booru grew in size and popularity, more people asked questions like “well, is this image okay? What about that one? Can I have my OC here?” A lot of them were discussed on IRC, others were not and later deleted. Many policy discussions were handled mostly by word of mouth until a formal set of rules were laid down; at one point, reforming the bronibooru rules caused a more concise rewriting of the entire site’s rules. When it did come to choosing janitors for bronibooru, those considered were the most involved in uploading and policy discussions. Bronibooru moved on to using a web of linked servers to mirror images and reduce the overall load on the site. Unfortunately, this system was not perfect. The mirror of “bronibooru.com” was also added as a redirect around this time, thanks to a domain donation from an r/mylittlepony mod.

Predicting the Future

The rise to thirty thousand images is particularly interesting. While it took about five months to reach 10,000 images, and then three more past that to twenty thousand, user BartonFink accurately predicted within a day the date the 30,000 image would be uploaded:

“The initial 10000 posts took place from 3/6 until 8/29, or 176 days at an average of 56.81 posts/day. If this pattern were to hold, we wouldn’t have seen image 20000 until 2/21/2012, and we wouldn’t be seeing theoretical image 30000 until 8/15/12.

However, those are obviously outdated numbers since there’s been an increased. In the period between 10000 and 20000, the average number of daily posts increased to approximately 131.57 posts/day (might be double counting 8/29 here, but number should be close). Because of that increase, it only took 76 days to reach 20000. If this pattern were to hold, we would be seeing image 30000 around January 28th, 2012.”

The 30,000th image was uploaded on Jan 29th, 2012. By a similar prediction, bronibooru should have hit its 40,000th image in early April. Unfortunately, it did not. Different patterns in uploads can be attributed to different individuals who uploaded images during these periods. While some trends can be attributed to uploaders, others by the show itself.

For example, around the end of season one, bronibooru’s highest used character tag by far (and by several hundred images) was Rainbow Dash. Uploads in the following summer grew with the size of the fandom and the increasing number of artists, but one thing stayed constant – Rainbow Dash was one of the most often drawn ponies. Despite the lack of an episode, Princess Luna was one of the most drawn non-main-cast characters, behind Derpy Hooves. Now with the second season concluded, Pinkie Pie is neck and neck with Rainbow Dash. Princess Luna has far more images than the wall-eyed grey pegasus.

It was around the 30,000th image that bronibooru finally got a standardized tagging system. A lot of tags were redone; several ambiguous tags were changed to make way for more obvious labels. A bit of confusion at the time in exchange for fewer headaches in the future. Even many old images that pop up from time to time are sourced and retagged, or cleaned out as necessary. Nowadays, an image that was uploaded long ago can easily be found. Bronibooru is not only an up to date repository of safe images, it’s also one of the easiest to index. Danbooru’s built-in searching system combined with the very straightforward tagging system makes it possible to find an image you might only vaguely recall in your head. By this time, bronibooru had moved on to the much more robust Amazon S3 system to host its images.

One of the latest additions to bronibooru is its advertisement system. The biggest problem with using ads to maintain a website is that most users simply don’t want to see them. They rarely pertain to their interests. Modeled after SomethingAwful’s successful advertisement system, bronibooru implemented its own ad system to help alleviate server costs. All of the ads are by users, for users, and the system has worked well for the site thus far. In addition to its new advertisement system, bronibooru also has links to the other portions of mlponies.com—The Round Stable, and the main forums.

Despite the bumps on the road to bringing bronibooru to where it is today, there’s one thing you can be sure of. While some sites may bend their policies around the user base in hopes of getting more hits, bronibooru will always be an imageboard you can trust to be well moderated, well maintained, and of course, safe. 

Share your thoughts


  1. Thank you uploaders for your tireless work, delving into the dark abyss of fanart to pull up the hidden treasures, braving the wicked waters of other image sites, and some other third sea analogy! Your hard work is appreciated!

    • Don’t forget the daily maintenance of the booru, including tagging, sourcing, checking for dupes and general cleanup. The term “janitor” gives the right idea.

  2. I remember my first day tagging stuff. I got temporarily banned while the staff asked me what I was doing. Everything got cleared up and everything was fine.

    Then there was a few early incidents where I either didn’t grasp the exact rules or I just got sloppy. Bulk uploading tends to make your standards slip.

    I got better, but never quite enough. So now I just tag stuff. I am still in the top 10 uploaders, but eh. I was spending too much of my time posting ponies anyway.