Not long ago, Gravatar crawled back out from the shadows and relaunched with a snazzy new service (backed by Amazon S3) that lets you claim multiple email addresses and host multiple gravatars with them for $10 a year.
The beauty of their service is that it makes it possible to centrally control the 80 by 80 pixel face that you put out to the world and to additionally tie a different face to each of your email addresses. And this works tremendously well when it comes to leaving a comment somewhere that a) supports Gravatar and b) requires an email address to leave a comment.
Now, when Gravatar went dark, as you might expect, some enterprising folks came together and attempted to develop a decentralized standard to replace the well-worn service in a quasi-authoritarian spec called Pavatar (for personal avatar).
Aside from the unnecessary invention of a new term, the choice to create an overly complicated spec and the sadly misguided attempt to call this effort a microformat, the goal is a worthy one, and given the recent question on the OpenID General list about the same quandary, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter.
For one thing, avatar solutions should focus on visible data, just as microformats do — as opposed to hidden and/or spammable meta tags. To that end, whatever convention is adopted or promoted should reflect existing standards. Frankly, the hcard microformat already provides a mechanism for identifying avatars with its “photo” attribute. In fact, if you look at my demo hcard, you’ll see how easy it would be to grab data from this page. There’s no reason why other social networks couldn’t adopt the same convention and make it easy to set a definitive profile for slurping out your current avatar.
In terms of URI locating, I might recommend a standard convention that appends
avatar.jpg to the end of an OpenID as a means of conveniently discovering an avatar, like so. This concept follows the
favicon.ico convention of sticking the
favicon.ico file in the root directory of a site, and then using this icon in bookmarks. There’s no reason why, when URLs come to represent people, we can’t do the same thing for avatars.
Now, off of this idea is probably my most radical suggestion, and I know that when people shoot me down for it, it’s because I’m right, but just early (as usual).
Instead of a miserly 80 pixels square, I think that default personal avatars should be 512 pixels square (yes, a full 262,144 pixels rather than today’s 6,400).
There are a couple reasons and potential benefits for this:
- Leopard’s resolution independence supports icons that are 512px square (a good place to draw convention). These avatars could end up being very useful on the desktop (see Apple’s Front Row).
- While 80 pixels might be a useful size in an application, it’s often less than useful when trying to recognize someone in a lineup.
- We have the bandwidth. We have the digital cameras and iSights. I’m tired of squinting when the technology is there to fix the problem.
- It provides a high fidelity source to scale into different contortions for other uses. Trying blowing up an 80 pixel image to 300 pixels. Yuck!
- If such a convention is indeed adopted, as
favicon.icowas, we should set the bar much higher (or bigger) from the get-go
So, a couple points to close out.
When I was designing Flock, I wanted to push a larger subscribable personal avatar standard so that we could offer richer, more personable (though hopefully not as male-dominated) interfaces like this one (featuring Technorati’s staff at the time):
In order to make this work across sites, we’d need some basic convention that folks could use in publishing avatars. Even today, avatars vary from one site to the next in both size and shape. This really doesn’t make sense. With the advent of OpenID and URL-based identity mashed up with microformats, it makes even less sense, though I understand that needs do vary.
So, on top of providing the basic convention for locating an avatar on the end of an OpenID (
http://tld.com/avatar.jpg), why not use server-side transforms to also provide various avatar sizes, in multiples of 16, like:
avatar.jpg (original, 512×512)
avatar_16.jpg. This is similar to the Apple icon
.icns format … I see no reason why we can’t move forward with better and richer representations of people.