About gravatars

One of the new features offered by the recent release of WordPress 2.6 (the software underpinning this site) is support for gravatars.  What’s a gravatar?  It’s a globally recognized avatar, or a graphic representation of your personality that’s recognized across multiple blogs and forums.  (They’ve taken WordPress and MoveableType by storm, and they’re coming to Blogger and LiveJournal too.)  Much like OpenID (and Microsoft’s failed Passport experiment of a few years ago) is paving the way to a secure, universally recognized set of login credentials, gravatars allow users to place their own unique “stamp” everywhere they make their presence known on the Internet.

Why is that such a big deal?  It’s all part of the evolution of the Internet.  Nearly every Web site you visit is a self-contained unit, a walled community all its own.  This was good for several strategic reasons.  However, now that Web standards like 128-bit encryption and secure sockets layers have become ubiquitous, developers waste a lot of resources by building essentially the same Web site infrastructure over and over again.  We’re now entering an era of consolidation, where a single login interface grants us access wherever we touch the Internet.  While there are still legitimate privacy and security issues to be worked out, we’re going to see accelerated movement in this area over the next several years.  Gravatars represent our first tentative steps into that world — innocuous enough to minimize the privacy risk, yet bold enough to urge us onward toward bigger and bolder initiatives.

Where do gravatars appear on our site?  Take a look at the comments section for each post.  You may notice that an apparently random graphic appears next to each person’s comment.  Well, that’s because they are random, except for two: Cassia’s comments appear next to a nice purple flower, and mine are associated with a mug shot of me.  How is this so?  That’s because we’re registered at www.gravatar.com.  Whenever we leave a comment on our site, our blog checks the Gravatar database to see if there’s an image registered to the e-mail address entered in the comment form.  If there is, that image is returned; if not, a default image is returned.  We’ve chosen Identicons for our site (those seemingly random geometric patterns you’ve noticed before) as they were the least childish of the available options.  We could have chosen Wavatars (silly faces) or MonsterIDs (cartoon monster figures) as default, but we wanted the site to retain at least a modicum of class.  I mean, come on now.

So, now that you know what Gravatars are all about, you can get one of your own too!  In any case, now you know what’s up with the comment section of our blog, in case any of you were wondering.

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