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

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made in the Philippines by Sophia Lucero.