If you’ve stumbled around the web for a while, then you’ve probably seen the little pictures that some people use alongside their comments in blog posts, or on forums. So how do you go about getting your own picture against your blog comments or forum posts?
Not all blogs or forums allow their users to have pictures of themselves next to their comments or posts, but those that do tend to utilise the same easy-to-use system.
If you post questions on forums, or leave comments on blog posts and would like to enhance your comments with your photograph or some graphical icon, then read on, as it’s really not that difficult to achieve.
The little pictures that you see next to blog comments or forum posts are called avatars. An avatar is a computer user’s representation of themselves in the online world.
In computer games an avatar is often the three-dimensional character that users use to represent themselves, in blogs and forums though, an avatar normally takes the form of a picture of themselves, a cartoon representation, or some graphical icon having some particular meaning or significance to the user.
To be able to use your own avatar on different blogging or forum platforms, there would really need to be a universally accepted system for the use and transfer of avatars across platforms, otherwise you’d have to set up a separate avatar for every system or website that you’re likely to use. This, as you could imagine, would be a real pain.
Fortunately, such a universal system does exist and it’s called GRAVATAR.
A gravatar is a Globally Recognised Avatar and is an free online service to serve avatar images globally and in a defined way.
A gravatar is always square and can be up to 512 pixels wide, although the default standard is 80 x 80 pixels.
To be able to use gravatars, all you need is a valid e-mail address and a suitable image that you want to use as your avatar.
Gravatars are linked to your e-mail address. Whenever you leave a comment on a blog post, the blogging software uses your e-mail address to retrieve your avatar from the gravatar website. However, in an effort to alleviate spam your e-mail address is not used directly, but an encrypted version of it, called an MD5 hash (or message digest), is used instead.
The MD5 hash, derived from your e-mail address, uniquely identifies your gravatar and prevents spam by not sending your real e-mail address in the process. Furthermore, there is no possibility of anyone extrapolating your e-mail address from the MD5 hash!
The MD5 hash of an e-mail address is always 32 characters long, using the characters 0 – 9 and a – f (hexadecimal notation). For example, the MD5 hash of the e-mail address iHaveAn@email.com is:
To call up the gravatar linked to this e-mail address using its MD5 hash, the blogging software would use something of the following format:
Try clicking on this link and your browser should display the gravatar logo.
The gravatar system also has an in-built (voluntary) rating system to try and prevent inappropriate images being displayed.
When choosing your gravatar image, if you feel that it may be unsuitable for certain audiences, you can choose which of the following ratings is most appropriate for it:
- G – Suitable for all audiences
- PG – Possibly offensive, usually for audiences 13 and above
- R – Intended for adult audiences above 17
- X – Even more mature than above
Website managers running websites supporting the gravatar system can set the appropriate rating for their site. For example, if you ran a site that children may visit, then you would set the site’s gravatar rating to G. This would mean that only user’s gravatars with a G rating would be displayed and any gravatar with a higher rating would be replaced by a safe, default image.
Sign Up for a Gravatar
If this captures your imagination and you fancy getting your own avatar, then you will need to sign up with the gravatar system.
To sign up for a gravatar, you need to:
- Go to www.gravatar.com and click on the signup link
- Enter your e-mail address and then click signup
- Check your e-mail and click on the activation link in the e-mail sent to you from gravatar. If you can’t find the e-mail, try checking your junk mailbox just in case your spam filter has caught it by mistake.
- Choose a username and password
- Click on the link to add an image
- Choose an image from your computer and upload it to gravatar
- Crop and size your image
- Choose a suitability rating for your avatar
You should now be ready to go. Your avatar image is now linked to your e-mail address through the gravatar system and will appear when you leave comments on gravatar enabled blogs and forums.
Give it a Go
If you’ve successfully managed to create a gravatar and are now itching to try it out, why not leave a comment on this post to see how it all works?