With Gravatar's Outage and Suckage, Should A New Avatar System Take Its Place?

With Gravatar’s Outage and Suckage, Should A New Avatar System Take Its Place?

Perhaps more than a week ago, while browsing around my site, I found this shocking message in the comments section:


I really don’t know why something inside me told me the hacker-like message pointed to the Gravatar plugin installed on this site, but sadly, Googling around confirmed my suspicions. Apparently it was a debugging message for the Gravatars2 plugin.

…Getting no gravatar back from gravatar.com is very common. I removed the rougue “SUCKAGE” message that I had been using for testing. Oops. :) You can download the latest 2.5.3 release to get rid of that. It only shows up when the gravatar downloaded from gravatar.com should have been valid, but wasn’t (the reason for the previous emergency release)… »

Putting a message like that may seem fun (in a geeky way obviously) when it’s for personal use only, but if you’re writing it inside code somebody else will see, and might possibly get scared of, don’t put it there! But then I guess this is no MP and we are not teachers who can scold you for such silliness. This is real life.


A gravatar is a globally recognized avatar. A user can store an image that represents one online. Upon registration the image is tied to the email address used during signup. In order to be “globally recognized,” though, websites have to install code that recognize and display gravatars, say when a person comments on the website. In my case, I’m using WordPress, which has a plugin called Gravatars2 for supporting gravatars.

I like the concept of gravatars because it’s hardly an endeavor that takes advantage of people. It’s just there to make the Internet more interesting. Kinda like Intention Cloud and Totally Deserved.

But this may be exactly why Gravatar is experiencing problems. Gravatar has been down for quite sometime; that is, the site is currently closed to any new signups and it’s got error messages all over. This maintenance mode has been around for a long time now, which has me worried, even if it promises it won’t shut down.

It’s not the same reason the WordPress plugin displayed the glaring glitch, but I started to wonder: what is the Web 2.0 world doing about this?

The Next (insert letter here)Avatar

I’m not talking about an OpenID or some other online identity system that’s way too pompous for the layperson’s simple whimsy. So that thrown aside, are there any contenders for the role of gravatars in the webosphere?

A favatar uses the favicon associated with the URL given instead of mapping an image to an email address. The problem with this method is not everyone likes to make favicons as much as they like to make avatars. I don’t!—because favicons by default are so small! 16 x 16 pixels is just not my cup of tea. Here’s a WordPress plugin for favatars.

On the other hand, a pavatar is short for “personal avatar.” Like favicons, they are usually stored on one’s own server or image hosting account unlike gravatars stored on the Gravatar server. To associate a pavatar to a URL, the following HTML code should be added to the home page of the said address:

<link rel="pavatar" href="http://example.com/path/my-pavatar.png" />

The other option is to upload the image as “pavatar.png” in the home page.

I like these two solutions because they come through where gravatar fails. They also behave as though you’re entering the URL for your avatar as you comment on a post without having to enter the exact image path anyway as it is already implied by the website you’ve entered. Of course, this is problematic for people with multiple personalities on the web. Or those that don’t have the authority to edit the home page HTML or save files to the home page folder.

I think that’s why gravatars became popular.

What, No Web 2.0 Solution?

What, no brilliant solution to this fairly simple whim? It’s nothing a Web 2.0 application or hype couldn’t possibly provide. Maybe I missed a TechCrunch or Mashable! post.

Identikit (translated) is a WordPress plugin that supports [(gr)|p|f]avatars. That’s just for WordPress though.

Still, I fear MySpace will become so large that it will set the standard for one’s own online identity and that so many other web applications will bow down to it—if they haven’t yet.

I’m talking about the personal side of the web, where identity matters, and not the corporate, formal, starchy part. Which briefcase-bearing, suit-slinging git is interested in avatars anyway?

Edit: I came across another service ending in “avatar”: davatar, short for “dynamic avatar.” It seems to work the same way as gravatar in that it hosts avatars remotely, but I have yet to see support for the most common publishing platforms. Should it be considered as Web 2.0 just because it’s in the beta testing stage? Nah.

Oh, and be a doll and indulge me: Digg | oKs | Reddit

35 replies

  1. ah. i didn’t had any idea that Gravatar was related to that “suckage” when you told me about it weeks ago. creepy :))

    gravatar went down just when i wanted to try it out. sheesh, this is what late Net bloomers get.

    Reply to this

  2. Pingback:   Downtime at Gravatar. Should a New System be in Place? by Blogging Pro

  3. Pingback: IndianPad

  4. My apologies for the recent downtime regarding gravatars. I have a new serving mechanism in place and you should see gravatars being served at an unprecented pace. I hope the past downtime has not soured you completely to the system. I will be dedicating more time, resources, and money on gravatars this year, and Gravatar 2.0 should be something very special.

    Reply to this

  5. @Corsarius: Yes, poor you. You’re missing out. :P

    @Tom Werner: Don’t feel THAT bad! I’m only a fan speculating here. I would love to see what Gravatar 2.0 will give us—what YOU will give us—even if we have to wait for a while. :) Thanks for dropping by! And for the record, I was bothered more by the plugin debugging message, not the downtime.

    Reply to this

  6. Pingback: Weblog Tools Collection » Gravatar Replacement?

  7. Pingback: doctorvee » Welcome back?!

  8. @Mike: Ah yes, I forgot to emphasize that it was free and because of it, we had no right to complain!

    @Aaron: I’ve heard of your site, hehe. Thanks!

    @Adam: Oh yes, buddycards! I seemed to have forgotten that probably because it doesn’t have the word “avatar” in it! Haha. Hmm, and it’s Web 2.0 too! It’s still not getting the same reception as Gravatars, but I hope APIs make that easier.

    Still, I feel bad for Gravatar.

    Reply to this

  9. It doesn’t seem to be something that is switched on automatically.

    If you become involved in the Mybloglog community, the quality of the traffic you recieve is superb.

    I am receiving lots of repeat traffic and the new subscribers rate is increasing rapidly.

    Reply to this

  10. not to be an ass (i’ve had a long train ride and a few beers) but this has been an issue for weeks now. i also hope it gets fixed soon. i don’t use them currently but some seem to like it so it is a space that needs to be filled.
    but i thought this news had dust on it(?)
    no offense. i enjoy reading along….

    Reply to this

  11. @bv: Yeah, perhaps for months now — I know people who haven’t been able to register because of the downtime, but I posted the article primarily because of the debugging message I encountered with the plugin. :) Thanks though! No prob.

    Reply to this

  12. Been thinking of adding that Gravatar Plug-in for wordpress on my new templates, but seeing it’s been acting up for months recently and they have disabled sign ups as well. Do you think it’s wise to install the plugin now or wait for further developments?

    Reply to this

  13. @Ferdz: It’ll be tough if your regular visitors haven’t signed up yet—they won’t get the concept, I think! If you’re really playing on the safe side I think it’s best you wait for the 2.0 version. The debugging message appeared because I needed to update, they said. :P

    Reply to this

  14. Pingback: Gravatar ... Es lebt? - Jowra - Webdesign · Photo · Artwork

  15. Pingback: Around the web | alexking.org

  16. Pingback: Crimson Crux Revamped! » Crimson Crux

  17. I’m actually surprised that one of the big corps (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, etc.) hasn’t jumped on the avatar serving bandwagon. Not to say I want them to, just surprised that they haven’t.

    Reply to this

  18. @pricolatino: Yes, you have a point! Google at least, right? Maybe we’ll have to wait a while for that. I’ve read somewhere that in the online video game, YouTube is much more social/usable than Google Video. Even if they are both owned by the big G right now, that could be an indication of Google’s way of thinking.

    Yahoo! IDs are practically commonplace and I choose that over AOL and MSN IM identities anytime so that could be viable as well.

    Reply to this

  19. Pingback: The WordPress Podcast · Episode 14: Your feedback on the Mullenweg interview, ways to customize your blog and more

  20. Pingback: Good bye, Gravatar? - blog :: weinschenker.name

  21. To Tom Werner: Dude, you’ve been singing that tired old song and dance for literally months now. It’s old! I really think you should abandon the whole thing and give the code, etc., to someone willing and able to implement it.

    Define “imminent” for me Tom? You obviously don’t know what the word means. And tell me again when exactly you said Gravatar 2.0 was imminent? Have you no shame?

    Your constant apologies are insulting as well. I’d rather you just shut up, stop what you’re NOT DOING, and give someone else the torch. Your pathetic dude and stringing us all along like this must be great fun for you….

    Reply to this

  22. I’m not at all concerned about “do[ing] much good for him.” In fact, I intend just the opposite. It’s time someone take this endeavor over and Tom Werner just go away. His empty promises have for months strung people along this path that goes nowhere.

    He said “imminent” over a month ago and he continues with this empty talk. It’s like Linus and the Great Pumpkin – it ain’t happening folks and the sooner you come to that realization and work toward an alternative the better.

    Tom Werner just perpetuates the myth for the naive. He needs to go away and go away publicly, so everyone can just move on. That won’t happen if he continues to bather on about “It’s coming soon. Really. Trust me…” Yes, Linus, maybe the Great Pumpkin will show up next Halloween.

    Reply to this

  23. My apologies for the recent downtime regarding gravatars. I have a new serving mechanism in place and you should see gravatars being served at an unprecented pace. I hope the past downtime has not soured you completely to the system. I will be dedicating more time, resources, and money on gravatars this year, and Gravatar 2.0 should be something very special.

    Heh… Something very special, if it worked, Tom…

    I realise that this is an old post, but it’s interesting to see that the current state of Gravatar is just another entry in a compendium of failure…

    Reply to this

  24. I’m still using Gravatar, but then again I’ve paid money for the service… I’ve changed my Gravatar but the old one is still showing…

    There are some new users who aren’t getting a Gravatar at all, I’d call it a failure to relaunch a website that doesn’t work…

    All we’ve got so far is a new interface and Javascript image cropping tool that will hardly get used…

    Reply to this

  25. Pingback: Gravatar Now Powered By Automattic * Stellify


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Anything in between < and > will be treated as HTML.