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Downtime at Gravatar. Should a New System be in Place?

Ia over at talks about the extended downtime that Gravatar, a popular system–especially among bloggers and blog commenters–for generating avatars, is experiencing.


Apparently, Ia suddenly saw strange postings of the text “Suckage!” on her blog’s comment threads, and thought the site was being attacked. Fortunately, it was just a “maintenance” message that the Gravatars2 WordPress plugin has been generating.

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.

She then goes on to wonder whether another Web app would rise up to take the place of Gravatar in this period of downtime.

First alternative would be avatars based on favicons–those small 16×16 images that are saved in your favorites folder beside the name of sites you bookmark (in FireFox, you see this on the tabs and right beside the URL in the browser’s address bar).

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.

Next would be pavatars, or personal avatars. I’m not so familiar with this type of avatars, though (and I would think it’s going to add up to one’s bandwidth having to post from your own server–or perhaps you can use photo sites that allow hotlinking).

Like favicons, they are usually stored on one’s own server or image hosting account unlike gravatars stored on the Gravatar server … 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.

Ia offers a solution that might be easier for bloggers, particularly those of us who use WordPress: a plugin called Identikit, which supports gravatars, favatars and pavatars all in one package.

Personally, though, I would agree with Ia that using avatars to spice up one’s comment threads might come as whimsical. I would rather have my site load up clean, fast and without errors than welcome the possibility of freezing because the browser has to call an external site to load a graphic. Or worse, malicious comment-posters can post unfavorable images or even infected images (that can attack Windows metafile vulnerabilities that were popular before) as their avatars.

And yes, I recall that Gravatar-related plugins were among the Plugins to Avoid we recently wrote about.

So should a new popular avatar system be in place?

Categories: Blogging Tips, WordPress Tips

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  1. Jimmy says: 12/5/2006

    Although using gravatar on my WP blog was cool, it really didn’t add any functionality to the site, so I won’t be too disappointed if gravatar doesn’t come back. I’d have to agree that a fast-loading, error-free blog is much better than cute little pics.


  2. Amrit Hallan says: 12/5/2006

    I read somewhere that Gravatar slows down your blog because all the time it accessing all the images from a distant server.


  3. ia says: 12/5/2006

    J (and to those who commented): I emphasized at the end of my post what Gravatar was for, which you forgot to quote:

    “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?”

    How about prototype.js, a huge 50KB javascript file that leaves you with a blank page for most of the load time because it’s stuck in the header part of the HTML? Prototype.js is quickly becoming a standard and will be integrated with WordPress very soon, according to Alex King. I’d rather have an image on my page take a long time to load than scare off my visitors with a blank page. Now if you’re going to argue that 50KB is hardly worth anything with the speed of our internet connections these days, then should Gravatar images matter either?


  4. Ajay D'Souza ) says: 12/6/2006

    This was something I hung onto for a long time, before I realized that it wasn’t really worth it.

    Gravatar really slowed down the site and didn’t solve any purpose.

    In the end, I just moved on.


  5. Napolux says: 12/14/2006

    Hi! I’ve just written a plugin that uses avatars from instead of gravatar’s ones.

    Take a look at my blog here!


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