Understanding avatars and gravatars

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by bledsoe on July 12, 2009

Have you ever noticed how on some blogs, when people leave comments there's a small photo or icon that appears next to all of their comments?  Have you ever wondered how to make your own photo/icon show up next to your blog comments?

Those little photo/icon things used to be (and sometimes still are) called avatars, though lately they've come to be known as gravatars.  Generically speaking, an avatar is "a computer user's representation of himself/herself" in some online community, while a gravatar is an abbreviation of the phrase "globally recognized avatar."  More specifically, a gravatar is an avatar that has been uploaded and registered with gravatar.com, a service created a few years ago (and recently acquired by Automattic, the same company that oversees the development of WordPress) that allows the same image to "follow you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things."

As of WordPress version 2.5, the use of gravatars is integrated into WordPress, which means you don't have to install any plugins to have the basic gravatar functionality on your site, though you do have to know how to set it up correctly, and also how to set up your own gravatar.com image for when you post comments, either on your own or on other people's blogs.  Here's the skinny:

  1. To set up your WordPress site so that other people's gravatars show up when they leave comments, go to the left sidebar on your Dashboard and click on Settings -> Discussion.  Down toward the bottom of the Discussion Settings is a section titled "Avatars" (it should really be titled "Gravatars"), and make sure the button labeled "Show Avatars" is selected.  Now when people leave comments on your blog, their gravatar (if they have one) will appear next to their comments.
  2. To get your own gravatar, simply go to gravatar.com and create an account.  After you create your account, the two main things you have to do are a) add an email address to the account, and b) add an image to use for your gravatar.  You can technically have an unlimited number of emails and images, but you have to tell gravatar.com which image to associate with each email address.  (I have three separate email addresses associated with my gravatar.com account, but I have the same image associated with each email address.)

Note that the way gravatar.com works, your gravatar image is tied to an email address.  When you post a comment on a gravatar-enabled site, the site will ask you for an email address; if you enter an email address that's been registered with gravatar.com AND that email address has an image associated with it, that image will appear on that site next to your comment.  If your gravatar image isn't showing up next to your comments, then either

  1. that site isn't gravatar-enabled,
  2. you don't have a gravatar.com account,
  3. you have a gravatar.com account but the email address you entered along with the blog post hasn't been added to the account, or
  4. you have a gravatar.com account and the email address you entered along with the blog post has been added to the account, but you don't have an image associated with that email address.

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