Gravatars & Identicons

You may have noticed a while back that I turned on gravatars for comments on the blog.

What this means, in a nutshell, for those who aren’t already down is that if you have a “globally registered avatar” at, then your comments here will show the image beside the commentor name. (Assuming that you use an email address on the comment that is associated with your gravatar.) The underlying idea is that you want to have one image, or “avatar”, that will show up any place that makes use of the gravatar service–and since WordPress now natively includes gravatar support that means “on a whole honking pile of blogs” at least.

Until just now, people who didn’t have a gravatar got the “I missed photo day at school” silhouette for their avatar image, however also just rolled out the ability to generate images for people who don’t have a registered image using one of three schemes. The idea here is that the generated image is always the same for any given input (i.e. “email address”) but distinct enough that you can tell them apart–so people who don’t have an avatar will get images that are recognizable over time as representing them. This is more useful on sites with much higher comment traffic than we have here, since it helps you scan for comments from particular users, or distinguish users with similar display names, etc, but I still like to play with the technology.

I’ve just turned this on, using the Identicon scheme (the implementation of which Gravatar pinched from the WP-Identicon plugin).

So, if you want control over your avatar here (and at all the other gravatar places) go register. If you don’t care, then you’re getting an identicon–hopefully you think it’s a cool looking one.

Update: I just spent a few minutes looking at what gets created for many of the people who have commented here over the years. Mostly they look like either quilts, southwestern art, or “bad guys” from Atari-era video games. A couple did stand out though:

Gwenda’s Identicon Gwenda's Identicon looks a lot like the flag of Nova Scotia. Alex’s Identicon Alex's Identicon looks vaguely buzz-sawish. Drake’s Identicon Drake's Identicon looks like a decorative border made out of the kind of bombs that you see falling out of bombers in old WB cartoons. And, sadly, Will’s Identicon Will's Identicon looks like nothing more than a cyan swastika.

  21 comments for “Gravatars & Identicons

  1. doug
    April 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    alex, buzz-saw, hmm

  2. Richard B.
    April 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Now I just want to game the system and post a bunch of comments for various email addresses. But I suppose I should stick with this one, which I see as “fragments of a delicious chocolate bar” but I’m open to other interpretations.

  3. April 23, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    buzz-sawish no more?

  4. April 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Yeah, I thought of that Richard–the algorithm is there, so it should be pretty easy to go from desired image to “hash that creates it”. Of course, then you’re into a rainbow tables problem to get back to the email.

    And yes, Alex, your visage is now visible.

  5. will shetterly
    April 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Cyan? The swastika had an honorable history and should be reclaimed from the Nazis, but cyan?

    Well, when I have more time I may tweak things–

  6. April 23, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I suppose I’m just testing to see if my avatar works. Although I feel vaguely disappointed not to have a generic abstract Identicon.

  7. April 23, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    It appears to be working.

    Of course, you had an Identicon before, it just didn’t suggest anything to me–it looked like this:

    Also, just for fun I checked what mine would have been–it’s actually pretty cool:

  8. April 23, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    As soon as I get time, I’m going to find random block images and just keep changing them out as my avatar–is it the machine, or it me? You don’t know!

  9. will shetterly
    April 26, 2008 at 2:31 am

    So, am I still a cyan swastika?

  10. will shetterly
    April 26, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Huh. I guess that didn’t work.

  11. will shetterly
    April 26, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Maybe now?

  12. will shetterly
    April 26, 2008 at 2:37 am


  13. April 26, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Perseverance. An important quality in a writer!

    (Also in a ditch-digger, but that’s neither here nor there.)

  14. Biff
    April 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Gravatars, really? Of all the Social networking, Web 2.0, rich internet application crap out there, you pick gravatars? What the heck?
    …of course I created one…

  15. April 29, 2008 at 1:55 pm


    I’ve always liked the idea of the icon-as-avatar for a discussion, and feel that it adds to the sense of community about a discussion, but always avoided it because:

    1) local avatar systems are a pain-in-the-ass with low incentive for commentors to setup, and there wasn’t a global system with the breadth of adoption to make using it worth it.
    2) global systems add additional points-of-failure and load time to pages

    When the WordPress guys bought and did a bunch of work to make it supa-fast, I got interested. And, of course, the native support in WP does suggest that there will be a large pool of active commentors in the world who will have already set it up. That sort of mitigated against my concerns.

    Then, when they rolled in the Identicon stuff, I had to do it because that kind of algorithmic shit fascinates me.

    Mostly, though, I did it to mess with YOU.

    (Did you see what your identicon was going to be, btw? It’s a pretty cool red one: Biff's identifcon.)

  16. Neil MacFarlane
    May 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I’ve always related more to the Indenticons that the Autobots, personally. Any alliance with humans is doomed to failure.

  17. Neil MacFarlane
    May 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Sweet, mine is a marijuana-crafted ninja-throwing star. Which, strangely, is what I would have designed it to be anyways. Huzzah!

  18. imworlds
    June 22, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Wanted to see my identicon!

  19. Ch4v3z!
    November 24, 2008 at 9:29 am


    not too much to add…
    but i want to see how mine looks like!


  20. January 25, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of plugins are you using for your avatars? The gravatar plugin I installed on my blog doesn’t give me an option to show identicons, which is annoying. I also tried installing the identicon plugin, but that doesn’t show the gravatars.

  21. January 25, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    OK, I figured it out in case you were wondering. I was trying to change my options from within the widgets menu, instead of the dashboard. I’m learning a lot this weekend.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.