A little while ago, I wrote about how a favicon defines a website. What about what defines you, the Internet person, however? We all have a thousand IDs spread all across the IntarWebz, demonstrating various aspects of our personality. Since 2006, I’ve been using the same image as my avatar pretty much everywhere: a stencil of Renee Montoya as The Question. This summer, a new artist picked up the brush and Cully Hamner’s take on Renee and her world became the de rigur look of the lady. So I decided today to switch over my icons to the new stencil. What does that mean in 2009? Is there an easy way to change your visual identity across multiple sites in one fell swoop?
There is and it’s called Gravatar
See, I only actually have to upload my avatar in four places, because Gravatar takes care of pretty much 90% of the sites I visit. Every site run by WordPress (either .org or .com), every sit running bbPress or BuddyPress all use this thing called Gravatar. I use it here and at any site I run. It’s a Globally Recognized Avatar. That means that every site that patches into the open API system can pull avatars from that site.
Now, I’ll admit there are some downsides. If Gravatar goes down, no one gets avatars. Oops! But when you think about it, not even Twitter is self-hosting your avatars anymore! Your images are actually hosted on the Amazon servers. Surprise! Still, the idea of having a consistent ‘me’ image on multiple sites with no extra effort for me is a bonus, and that’s why I Gravatar. Sometimes I’m delighted to make an account and find out that, right away, I’ve got my ‘me’ image! It’s tied into my email account, and everyone’s happy.
Just like an email address and user name, your avatar should be selected with care (I’m looking at you, MrLongDong47 with the baseballs and bat image that’s suggestive of you know what). It shouldn’t be offensive, it shouldn’t be animated — no, really, I hate you people and your animated avatars. For those of us who, sometimes, get the chance to browse from work, your animated avatars catch the eye of the bossman and get us in trouble. Also they make people queasy. But the image should reflect you in some way. Should it ‘be’ you? Should it reflect your website or the rest of your Internet presence?
It’s a complicated question, asking who we are virtually. Personally, I pick a generally safe image of something people know I like (The Question) and I make sure the colors are too garish. Right now, they’re orange and blue which is a little surprising, but they remind me of a few sports teams before everyone decided sports could only be white with red, blue or black. It stands out a bit more than my old one, but I think, as a whole, I like it. It reflects the fact that I’m a comic book geek, but also that I’m particular in my fandom. It’s hand crafted (I made it with GIMP today) so if someone has the exact same avatar, I know they stole mine.
Of course, now the next question is “Do I revamp this site to be more like the new Gravatar?” No. I just changed some of the header images to have Xena, The Question and Batwoman. There’s a theme here…