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Why You Need to be Using Gravatars

posted by Matt Ward on Nov 3, 2009.

In this post, we are going to look at the importance of having your own Gravatar (Globally Recognized Avatar), in order to help solidify your online identity. Also includes tips on how to choose the best possible Gravatar.

Have you every noticed how, on most blogs, some of the comments are accompanied by images – usually of the commenter or their logo – while others, even on the same blog, may simply be accompanied by a default or otherwise generated image? Have you ever wondered how people get these images?

Most of the time, it’s simply their Gravatar.

Why You Need to be Using Gravatars
Why You Need to be Using Gravatars

You’ve probably heard the term avatar before right? In internet-speak, this basically refers to an image (usually square), which you use to represent yourself on a website or other internet client, such as MSN (sorry – Windows Live). Historically, though, you’ve had to set a separate avatar on each site or client.

Gravatars are a way of at least starting to get around that problem. The term itself simply stands for Globally Recognized Avatar, and the concept is to be able to upload a single image which is made openly available to all websites through a user’s email address.

That’s part of the reason that most blogs ask for your email address when posting a comment. When the comment is published, the site will attempt to retrieve a Gravatar using that email address. If no Gravatar is found, a generic placeholder image is generally used instead.

That’s the concept in a nutshell – to learn more about how it works (and how your email address is protected), visit gravatar.com.

Why are Gravatars Important?

Okay, so why are Gravatars important? First, they are an absolutely invaluable tool for helping to establish your online presence and identity. Whether you own your own business, work for an agency or just kick it as a freelancer, brand and recognition are always key.

Using a Gravatar helps you accomplish this. They allow you to attach a single image to a single email address. Then, whenever you post a comment to any one of thousands, even millions of sites from all across the world, this one image will be automatically attached to your name.

Think of the recognition! Think of the simplicity!

All you have to do is leave a comment on an article and your Gravatar will appear along with your message. There is no need to sign up as a member of the site, or to upload an avatar. It’s all automatic. Plus, if you ever decide to change your Gravatar, the image change will be automatically reflected on all of your previous comments, because the images are retrieved directly from gravatar.com.

This also means that it’s not too late. Even if you have already posted thousands of comments on hundreds of blogs, you can still register your own Gravatar, and suddenly see your image reflected in all of those old comments – as long as the sites support Gravatars.

Become More Recognizable

Basically, what we are talking about here is becoming more recognizable. Let’s say you’re a web designer and in one day you visit and comment on sites such as WebDesigner Depot, Line25 and Smashing Magazine, all very large and reputable sites.

What are the chances that somebody else, who is also interested in Web design, might visit these same pages? Or even the same posts? Probably better than you think, especially if you are both subscribed to all the RSS feeds.

Now, if you only leave your name, do you think that the other person would notice that you commented on all three posts? Possibly, but the chances are slim.

But what if they saw the same Gravatar three different times?

I would think that the probability of recognition just went up significantly, especially if you have an interesting an easily recognizable Gravatar.

Trust me – this kind of thing does happen. I’ve experienced it myself, visiting different sites and recognizing the same individual posting here and there, all based on their Gravatar! I can also tell you that the more often I see that person’s Gravatar, the more likely I am to click through to their website, because it becomes clear that we share similar interests (given that we are visiting the same sites).

Enable Gravatars on your Own Blog

If you don’t already have Gravatar functionality on your own blog, I would also strongly recommend getting it set up – even if it means a bit of a redesign on your comments section.

There are some pretty awesome people out there in the Blogsphere. You might even call some of them celebrities. For me, there are probably nine or ten different designers out there who I consider my design heroes, based on the status they have managed to achieve, and I clearly remember the first time I saw one of their very recognizable Gravatars sitting in my pending comments. Now that was a gratifying feeling – knowing that one of the designers that I admire the most had visited my site and seen fit to actually leave a comment!

However, there’s more to the need to enable Gravatars than simply laying the ground work for our own self-satisfaction! These same comments can also lend credibility to your site.

Here’s another example. Suppose you are browsing through a site that you’ve never been too before, and you see the Gravatar of one of your own heroes in the comments section. How does this affect your impression of the site? Chances are it will increase it’s credibility, as you think to yourself: “Wow, so-and-so reads this blog too! It must be good!”

Some Gravatar Tips

Hopefully by now, you are convinced of the importance of using Gravatars. Here are some simple tips for how to make the most out of this valuable tool:

  • Make it recognizable – Use an image that people will recognize easily and immediately. An image of your face might work well if you are trying to promote yourself personally. Alternatively, you might consider using your logo if you are trying to promote a business, and if the logo will fit nicely into a square image
  • Make it clear – Avoid using blurry or otherwise obscured images, unless the obscurity makes them truly unique. Remember that you want your Gravatar to be recognizable.
  • Make it relevant – Selling freelance design services? A picture of your kid (no matter how cute) probably isn’t the best choice. Also, unless they are being used as mascots, pictures of your dog, cat, fish, rabbit, lizard or other pet should probably be avoided.
  • Keep it consistent – Your Gravatar is not your Facebook profile picture, and should not be changed every six hours, or whenever somebody takes a cool photo of you. If you’re changing it all the time, it won’t become as recognizable.
  • Keep it unique – Avoid using services that allow you to “create” yourself in cartoon format. Often, the generated images all look very similar and it can become difficult to tell one person apart from another. This is not to say, however, that you should not use cartoon or animated images. I know of some people who do this to great effect! Just make sure that the image has its own unique quality!
  • Keep it clean – It is possible to upload naughty images as Gravatars, but Gravatars are also rated and many sites (including this one) suppress R or X rates Gravatars. So, unless you are selling something particularly naughty, let’s try keeping it PG alright?
  • Think across platforms – Not all sites or tools are currently using Gravatars. For instance, Twitter allows users to upload their own avatars. Consider using the same image in both cases. This will help build even stronger recognition.

Well, there you have it. I feel that this article borders on a rant. It certainly wasn’t intended as such. I am simply amazed at the number of comments I see, even on my own blog, from people without Gravatars, and I felt that it would be a good idea to shed some light on the subject. I hope you enjoyed the article, and will consider heading over to gravatar.com to get your own Gravatar.

If you’re already using a Gravatar, well then I hope you found some of the tips helpful, or at least interesting! Also, consider leaving a comment, and show us all your Gravatar! What made you choose your particular image? Do you find it’s working for you? I’d love to read your thoughts and opinions!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Nov 3, 2009

a.tayrac says:

Very nice article, thank you! Gravatar is a little revolution and very practical I think. However, few people use it..

Nov 3, 2009

Matt Ward says:

Thanks for the comment, Arthur! Glad you enjoyed the article! I totally agree that Gravatar is like a little revolution. I hope this post will encourage more people to get involved with it!

Nov 3, 2009

designfollow says:

thanks for this post

Nov 3, 2009

Sean says:

I’ve been using gravatars since they’ve been around. Really every blog should have them enabled and anyone who comments on blogs should get one if they don’t already have one.

Nov 3, 2009

Matt Ward says:

Thanks Sean! Glad you agree with me on this one!

Nov 4, 2009

Rajesh Trilokhria says:

I was looking for this sort of idea since long…. thanks a lot for writing an article on this….
I would like to appeal to all the User Interface Designers/Developers to start using this from today itself. This would definitely bring some sort of clarity in the community. :) atleast we would be able to distinguish all my friends as well as contenders who are there in the trade…. hehehe

Nov 4, 2009

sriganesh says:

iam sure this will help for the new one. and now iam happy i can redirect to this page who ask me more question about this :) thanks

Nov 4, 2009

Matt Ward says:

thanks sriganesh! It would be great if you could send people to this article! Always appreciate the extra traffic :)

Nov 4, 2009

top twitter tools says:

Twitter has become so much fun to use, now that there are so many new tools to play with.

Nov 5, 2009

adam funari says:

Thanks I did it…see!

Nov 20, 2009

Dale says:

I knew about these, but never bothered to check into it for myself. Thanks for the post and the push!

Nov 20, 2009

Matt Ward says:

You’re welcome Dale! Nice Gravatar :)

Feb 18, 2011

Atwa says:

Well I have an Article in my website about having your custom ICO gravatar for non gravatar users to avoid the mistery man ICO take a look :) http://bit.ly/gycyDJ btw nice article Matt

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