I had a colleague call me today for advice on obtaining a Gravatar account. He’s writing an article for an online magazine and the editor suggested that having a Gravatar would provide an automatically generated photograph in his author’s profile. “What’s a gravatar?,” you may ask. It’s a globally recognised avatar – a photograph or image that turns up every time you write an article or leave a comment on a web site, attached to your email address. Gravatar the online service was created in 2004 by Tom Preston-Werner. In 2007, he sold his business to Automattic, the owners of the WordPress blogging platform.
Why would you set up a Gravatar? If you’re developing a business or enterprise that requires online recognition of you as a leader in your field, it makes sense for people to be able to recognise your face. If you have other people with the same name as you, it might be important to help people know when it’s you that’s writing and not your namesake. For me, having a gravatar helps people distinguish between the Highlander Duncan Macleod character played by Adrian Paul. Not really. The Highlander show finished years ago.
Gravatar is a free service for site owners, developers, and users. Naturally WordPress offer the service free on the condition that you sign up for an account with them. There are a few benefits behind the scenes. You get a free profile page, with links to your social media and any online writing you do. You get access to a free hosted WordPress site, which could be your first introduction to blogging. However if you want to use the free hosted WordPress.com platform you might find you’ve unwittingly signed up with Gravatar as well.
You have the option of keeping both the profile page and the WordPress site private. You can have more than one email address associated with your Gravatar pic. You can log in and change your pic any time you like, and your profile will automatically change on sites you’ve written on, in the past and in the future. And you can delete your Gravatar account should you get in trouble with the world and need to go incognito for a few years.
Why would you not set up a Gravatar? There may be some services, forums or sites where you don’t want your photo to appear. There might be some comments you’ve made in the past that you’d rather not now be associated with! Maybe you just want to have different ways of presenting yourself in different online settings. And there just may be some larger ethical problems associated with the automatic propagation of public identity information based in private contact details.
Sign up at gravatar.com. Or, don’t sign up… Your choice.