Gravatars & Comment Links

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 10, 2007

Filed under: Projects 128 comments

I’ve changed a few things about the comments around here.

The regular WordPress policy is to put a “nofollow” tag on the comments so that search engines will not give “credit” to the website of the person who left the comment. The idea is to take away a lot of the incentive for spamming comments. It happens anyway, but at least the process is made less rewarding for the spammer. In theory.

But this means treating all commenters like spammers, which I dislike. In any case, it’s a needless policy on my site, since my anti-spam measures block 99.99% of it, and I manually delete the rest. The upshot is that I don’t have spam comments, and so treating all commenters like spammers because some of them might be spammers is silly. So, I turned off the “nofollow” thing. This means that if you leave a comment and provide the URL to your website, you will get “credit” for the link.

The other thing I did this weekend was add support for Gravatars.

I saw Gravatars in action in the comments at Terminally Incoherent, and thought it looked really cool. Long threads can get confusing when you’re trying to keep track of who said what. I’ve found I remember “faces” better than names (even if the faces are just abstract icons or logos or whatever) and so when everyone has their own icon I find the whole thing easier to follow.

This is one of those things I’ve been waiting for someone to invent. I hate how you can’t have personalized icons when you comment at a blog, and I hate uploading the same user icon every time I join a new forum. Gravatar can, in theory, solve both problems. Once you set up a Gravatar it then becomes a “portable” avatar that you can take with you to other websites and forums – provided they support Gravatars. If you change your Gravatar, you don’t have to go to a half dozen different sites and make the change manually. It just happens.

It sounded really cool. It was very easy to code. It’s based on email, so (in theory) if a user has a Gravatar all they need to do is supply the email address when they leave a comment, and their avatar icon will show up.

Sadly, after setting it up and putting it into place I realized that nobody uses it. At least, nobody around here. I checked some of the old comment threads (from back in the days when I used to get 100+ comments) and not a single avatar showed up. Sigh.

I’ve left Gravatar support in place to see if it catches on. We’ll see.


From The Archives:

128 thoughts on “Gravatars & Comment Links

  1. Shamus says:

    Here is an example of Gravatar in action.

  2. Kris says:

    I’ll have to go check out and setup a Gravatar soon. But otherwise, yay! I’m getting ‘credit’!

  3. Browncoat says:

    Gee, if all Gravatars look like red “x”s in a box, why bother?

  4. Jim says:

    Either this will work and I can say “yay”, or it won’t and this post won’t make much sense.

    (Translation: I cheated by checking one of my previous posts to confirm I did it right. Then I posted here to get on the cool kids list.)

  5. ChattyDm says:

    Was that a challenge? Dear me, my inner geek said ‘cool, new gadget!’ and I ran to activate it.

    I have to show my new Webcomin artist drawn Avatar! :)

    I shall activate them on my blog too grate idea…. (I’ll have to start paying you royalty for all the ideas I’ve borrowed from here)

  6. ChattyDm says:

    Weird… I set it up and when I check it on the gravatar site, it doesn’t work…

    Maybe it’s takes some wtime to turn on…

    Oh well… wait and see I suppose…

  7. ScottSM says:

    Have you seen Indenticons or MonsterID? They can provide a nice fallback to Gravatar by providing a unique generated icon based on the user’s email (by feeding a hash of the email into srand and then “randomly” putting together an icon).

  8. Rich says:

    I’m game.

  9. Hugo Riley says:

    I hate avatars. It’s probably consequence after using newsgroups. Also I couldn’t find any picture which could represent me (i think even my own photo won’t do).

  10. bargamer says:

    Elves love eating donuts. That is all. XDDD

  11. I set up a gravatar quite a long time ago, at the time I found the service was very slow. Has it improved since then?

  12. Tango says:

    Yes, this does sound handy. because I can’t necessarily be Tango everywhere.

  13. Helge says:

    OK, let’s see if Gravatars are at all useful. ^_^

  14. ngthagg says:

    I agree that they make following comment conversations a lot easier, but I noticed a significant delay in loading the comments pages, and I suspect it is due to loading these images.

    I’ll be a shame if that’s the case.

  15. Deoxy says:

    I heard of gravitars… I don’t know, a year or two ago? Nifty idea, but yeah, they REALLY seem to have a hard time catching on for some reason.

    Maybe Shamus the Mighty, Creator of DM of the Rings, can change that with his massive following of geeks (such as myself). I do honestly hope so, but I don’t hold out much hope, alas.

  16. wererogue says:

    Is it retroactive – i.e. will my previous posts gain a gravitar if I set one up?

    … Yes!
    Nice job :)

  17. scragar says:

    the steps were a little longer to set it up than I expected, but I’ve set one up now, just for you shamus :P

    honestly this sounds like a great idea, just think how much bandwidth and space some forums would be able to save allowing for this. And the ability to rate your graphic lets you keep it clean for inteded sites without extra effort or thinking, very cool. me like.

  18. scum18 says:

    I quickly gravitated over to gravitars and set one up… Though I don’t comment often when I read blogs. But it’s a very cool idea.

  19. FYI Shamus, a bit off-topic (except maybe for the link credit), but I’ve got that essay on taxonomy vs folksonomy up at my new blog about blogging, if you are still interested. At the end I basically do a RFC for a WordPress plugin that would implement the ideas I talk about.

  20. Shamus says:

    ngthagg is right, there is a long delay in loading the page now. It’s gone from ~3 seconds to ~20. That will not do.

    Maybe this is an unrelated problem. I disabled the “fallback” avatar and the resizing to see if that was the source of the slowness. It wasn’t. I’ll leave this up for now and keep an eye on it, but if it stays like this it will just have to go.

    20 second page loads? Egads. Not in THIS century.

  21. GreyDuck says:

    I enabled Gravatar support on my site and… well, I’m the only person who’s commented there who has one, because I signed up for mine the same day I enabled it.

    *shrug* It doesn’t seem to be costing me any page loading performance so I’ll leave it in, just in case.

  22. Mordaedil says:

    Let’s see about this…

  23. Amanda says:

    Cool. I’m going to have to check it out.

  24. Jacob says:

    I signed up with Gravatar last week; let’s see if this works.

  25. Shamus says:

    Looks like there are some WordPress plug-ins which allow local caching of gravatars.

    I’ll have to give them a shot. I’ll experiment with that after work today. Hopefully the slow page loads won’t piss everyone off TOO badly in the meantime.

    Should have tested it more thoroughly. Sorry about that.

  26. Eric J says:

    Testing my brand-new Gravatar account.

  27. Joe says:

    Very cool also that it retrofits into all of the previous posts that I’ve made. Now there’s a face to match with all the silly things I’ve said here…

  28. Gahaz says:

    I’m not sure how they work…can you see my worm yet? Wait, that sounded all wrong…

  29. Gahaz says:

    Hmm, what am I doing wrong…

  30. General Ghoul says:

    Testing, testing. One, two, three…

  31. Phlux says:

    Dogsnake, I choose you!

  32. Noah Gibbs says:

    You know, it probably doesn’t help that the guy has *no* sense of marketing. This blog now has more screenshots of Gravatars in action than the official Gravatar site does. They also don’t seem to have links to places it’s used. The official blog linked on their site doesn’t allow comments and doesn’t use interesting icons.

    In short, the Gravatar official site is the fastest way I can think of to dissuade people from trying them :-)

    Or to put it another way: if it’s so great, why aren’t *they* using it? Or showing us where somebody else is?

  33. Henebry says:

    Just posting so I can show off my new Gravitar.

    I wonder if I ought to be paying something to the maker of this icon. It’s from a set created by David Lanham and distributed by Iconfactory.

  34. Henebry says:

    Whoops. My email changed a few months back, but Safari was auto-entering my old one all this time. And I hadn’t noticed. Is there any way for me to modify my old posts to change the email to the current one? I don’t think there is, but I thought I’d check.

    Anyway, here’s my new Gravitar. As noted above, it’s an icon from a set created by David Lanham and distributed by Iconfactory.

  35. Phlux says:

    I think it’s Gravatar’s fault. Their site seems to be super slow at the moment.

    Local caching of the gravatars would maybe help with image transfer speeds, but I would guess that the real slowness comes from checking “what is the current gravatar image for this user”. Even with local caching it would still have to check that.

    It was working fine when you first posted. Images loaded very quickly. I hope this isn’t a regular occurence, because I don’t imagine you want your site’s bottleneck to be an outside service you have no control over. I like the avatars and hope they stick around.

  36. Gothmog says:

    Hey, this IS pretty slick. Well done, Shamus! :D

  37. SiliconScout says:

    Seems to be loading quick enough for me.

    Anyone out there recognise my Gravitar?

    Also Shamus I ordered one of those Help my dice are trying to kill me steins. Looks awesome man thanks for that. Will be the perfect gift for a buddy of mine.

  38. Henebry says:

    The thing that’s lame about the Gravitar (I mean besides the new load time) is that it doesn’t appear to support transparency. My icon is a gif with a transparent background (black marked as transparent).

  39. scum18 says:

    Yeah, makes for a frustrating day at work trying to read the archives today. :)

  40. Clint says:

    Testing my Gravatar…

  41. McNutcase says:

    Sorry, not getting me a gravatar. I’m not a fan of cross-site stuff.

    Still, if everyone else gets one, I’ll wind up distinctive anyway!

  42. Telas says:

    Testing the Gravitar.

    Ditto to the “OMG, am I on dialup again?” comments…

  43. Cineris says:

    I dislike avatars in general. All these gravatar icons are pixelated messes, not to mention destroying the site’s design consistency by introducing elements that aren’t meant to be there. Can’t even choose not to use them.

  44. Sarah says:

    Well, I never even knew it existed…and I might even care enough to go sign up for it if it didn’t make the comments page load about fifty times slower. No idea why. Logically, the teeny little graphics should not take this long to load, even if there are a bunch of them.

    Thank goodness I’m on cable now. If I were still on my old dialup connection, I’d have said “screw this, his site is too slow for me to warn him that it’s slowm,” by now.

  45. Phlux says:

    I guess this blog is using a plugin (maybe the one Shamus referred to) that resolves the caching issue I mentioned above. It stores gravatars, but only updates the image stored once every few hours via a cron job on the server, so it never impacts page loads.

    Very detailed and useful information at the link

  46. Telas says:

    98.849 seconds to re-load this page. (At this point in the comments.)

    And my Gravatar looks really jaggy…

    I like the idea, but the implementation is earning it a “thumbs down”.


  47. william says:

    not entirely related, but has anyone heard of Nedroid? I saw a post on claiming to use them to render images drawn from text descriptions. i thought shamus might be interested

    WHOO fourtieth post

  48. Let’s test this thing. I do like the idea, but the comments seem to take a _lot_ of time to load…

  49. TheMatt says:

    Gravatar, activate!

  50. Huckleberry says:

    What else. :)

  51. Tryss says:

    I don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon.

  52. Curaidh says:

    Now that is a neat feature.
    Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!

  53. Sempiternity says:

    I really like this – means i don’t have to fight with my image hosting site to get an avatar icon to display properly!

    Assuming, i’ll see another site Gravatar enabled, of course…

  54. mos says:

    I’ll be the counter-culture cool kid that you all wish you could be, and not conform.

  55. Feylamia says:

    Yay – I love blogs with gravatar support. :)

  56. Telas says:

    That’s better… I don’t know what happened, but the page load time is 10.610 seconds.

    Testing after clearing local cache next. I’ll post if it’s significantly different.


  57. Telas says:

    5.359 seconds. Whatever the problem was, it’s fixed.

  58. maehara says:

    Testing, one, two… :)

  59. Dev Null says:

    Hey Shamus, I don’t think your retroactive test must’ve worked; I’ve been using gravatars with this address for years.

    (Oh. Nevermind. Apparently I’ve been leaving the au off the end of the yahoo address on your site.)

  60. karrde says:


    (I began using a gravatar a couple of years ago…I can’t remember it it links to my email, username, website, or a combination of the three. The website might be wrong.)

  61. karrde says:

    testing, take 2…

  62. Cineris: I kind of agree, the fact that everyone chooses their own avatars makes things kind of psychedelic. That and also the fact that the vast majority of comments have the blue default icon. I just installed MonsterID (kudos to ScottSM upthread, see it in action here) and I think it gives the same advantages as Gravatar, but seems to fit a little better.

  63. Dev Null says:

    Noooooo… I had it in gravatar without the au as well. I think it must not work retroactively or something? That doesn’t make much sense though…

  64. karrde says:

    Strange, my gravatar (which still works on other sites I’ve used it on, to my knowledge, and is still correctly displayed after I log in at the gravatar site) doesn’t show up.

  65. Dev Null says:

    And it doesn’t seem to work that way either. Even with the email copied and pasted from the gravatar site.

  66. Matt` says:

    I think I already have one setup from a while back.. let’s see if this works

  67. MadTinkerer says:

    Hey, I just signed up!

    Check out my weblog for videogame and RPG related posts. (the link is my name.) It’s like Twenty Sided but half as awesome!

  68. Nentuaby says:

    Cool. Spread the word, you have a geeky enough readership that you can definitely make a mark on the early adopter paradox for a cross-blog social feature. (Not enough userbase to make it worthwhile… So nobody signs up. ‘It’s the best there is.’)

  69. Shawn says:

    test, test, 1 2 1 2

  70. Sauron says:

    I guess it’s my turn to test!

  71. 11 says:

    For those still seeing the “generic” avatar:
    Be sure to select an avatar from your list of avatars after uploading it.

    I wonder how gravatars stays solvent though… I don’t see a way for it to generate revenue, and I can see it becoming a bandwith hog, especially if it ever goes viral…

  72. Sem says:


  73. Ian says:

    Yay, now Shadow can follow me around to yet another site. ;)

    The main reason I never used Gravatar before is because I didn’t know about it. Now that I do, however…

  74. RodeoClown says:

    I’ve had a gravatar for ages, and I’ve posted here in the past. Obviously you didn’t go through EVERY SINGLE COMMENT EVER MADE AND CHECK.

    Other than that – awesome :)

    BTW – while you are fiddling around in your theme, can you get it to highlight your comments please?


  75. Eltanin says:

    *looks left*
    *looks right*
    *steps into the room wearing his familiar skin*

    Aaaah. That’s much better. Funny how used to having an avatar one gets.

  76. RodeoClown says:


    My gravatar is not showing up – I just checked at the gravatar site, and it’s there.

    It’s not X-rated or anything (just my head in a pirate costume) – have you got the gravatar settings right at your end?

  77. Eltanin says:

    hrrm. ‘cept it ain’t much better. No avatar? Did I break the Gravatar machine? Eeep! I’d better go check…

  78. ngthagg says:

    Even with the 77 comments, my load speed this time was as fast as it normally is. So the problem seems to be fixed.

    Of course, I still have to set up my gravatar.

  79. RodeoClown says:

    Ah… there it is :)

  80. Curaidh says:

    Well look at these comments… I mean… LOL?

    Shamus, do you see what you did there?
    Not one comment without a Gravatar. Right now it’s just a single squadron, but if this keeps on you’ll have your own personal army of geeks in no time… ready to spread your wrath all across the internet.

    Your command, mylord? ;)

  81. Luke Maciak says:

    Thanks for the link Shamus! And you are right, it does help to put a face (of sorts) to the comments. For example, I was skimming down, and I saw a familiar Gravatar – and it turns out it was Matt` who frequently posts at Terminally Incoherent.

    Hey Matt`!


  82. Jaguar says:

    Shamus, do you have the ability to specify a default image for people who don’t have a gravatar? If so, their image could be transparent and/or 1×1 pixel; or no image at all. Then, those folks are stuck with the default.

    Then again, it might be better to leave it as it is… Just an idea.

  83. Seaners says:

    Well, I went right out and created my gravatar. Will this prove to be a boon to mankind? Time will tell.

  84. Alan De Smet says:

    I’ve got a Gravatar. I set them up on my own blog a few years ago. But checking your archives, and my own site, it’s not working. So I’ll try a new post and hope it works. And if it doesn’t, I guess I’ll see what went wrong…

    Relatedly, it looks like you’re loading the default sized images at 80×80, then rescaling them down to 48×48. This means that the images look jaggy on browsers that do nearest-neighbor interpolation and that you’re asking people to download unneeded bits. You might want to add “&size=48” so the scaling is done on Gravatar’s site, giving you better looking and smaller images.

  85. scragar says:

    the page loads slow because it uses tables, so the content is not permited to load until each individual section of the table is loaded, barely noticable with all text, but add a few handfulls of images and the loading time seams to drasticly increase.

    There are a few solutions, but might I recomend editing the plugin to provide the icons as background-images to the td’s, with no repeat and positioned in the top left. I’ve never used wordpress before, but I’m sure it’s more than possible. This would remove the increase in loading time by making the images independant of the table, meaning that once the table loads it displays, instead of waiting for the images.

  86. Boingophile says:

    mine’s kinda boring, but here you go…

  87. Alan De Smet says:

    Right, that was annoying. My Gravatar was mysteriously broken. I logged in to Gravatar and everything looked fine, but it didn’t work. When I re-uploaded the same image and set it to that, it worked fine (after allowing a few minutes, probably for the cache to reload). Happily, it’s now popped up in your old posts and reappeared on my own site. I’m still a fan of Gravatars, but it’s annoying.

  88. SiliconScout says:

    Dang mine just isn’t working.

  89. Mari says:

    First off, yay! I have a Gravitar now.

    Secondly, there are not nearly enough cool anime gravitars in these comments yet. Some of you people with the boring blue gravitars should find yourselves a nice anime avatar to hook up. Because I love scrolling through anime images to see which ones I can’t identify. My sad geekery knows no limits.

  90. Grue says:

    Random spam/Gravatar test

  91. Luke Maciak says:

    @Jaguar – yes, you can specify the default avatar. If you look at my website I use gray question mark icons that are less jarring than the default blue gravatar logo. But you could easily use a transparent 1×1 gif instead.

  92. AngiePen says:

    OK, this is pretty cool (if it works) so….

    Angie, crossing fingers

  93. AngiePen says:

    Well, it would’ve been pretty cool, if it’d worked. :P I signed up, uploaded my (shrunken to 80×80) favorite icon, which I use on Blogger and is my default on LJ. So…? :/


  94. Rebecca says:

    So, I get one Gravatar per email address…

  95. Rebecca says:

    That’s pretty cool … if I signed up for, say, 50 email accounts, I could have 50 gravatars and use them like mood icons. Obviously, that is abusing the system.

  96. Davesnot says:

    Let’s see… geeks.. new tech.. uh.. like we wouldn’t use it.. Though, I bailed on the site a couple times thinking something was wrong with the server.. tough call.. neat new eye candy vs speed… tough one.

  97. Davesnot says:

    You have to give it some time Angie.. at least that’s what the commenters before you said… and Shamus confirmed it… so I’m guessing it’ll take some time.

  98. Luke Maciak says:

    @Angie Yes, Davesnot is right, it does take some time. Also if Shamus is using some cacheing mechanism that might be impacting gravatars as well.

    @Rebecca – btw, Avatars are not really supposed to be used as “mood icons” but as unique graphical identifiers. Almost every system other than Live Journal gives you a single avatar per account.

    Nice thing about gravatars is that they travel with you wherever you go. :)

  99. Yahzi says:

    Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam,
    Wonderful spam!


    sorry, couldn’t resist… :D

  100. freddyboomboom says:

    I’ve had a gravitar for so long I forget how long it’s been. Maybe two years or so?

    Anyway, if it shows up, can anyone id the rifle?

  101. Huckleberry says:

    @Angie and others: 11 (comment 71) said:

    “For those still seeing the ‘generic’ avatar:
    Be sure to select an avatar from your list of avatars after uploading it.”

    I think that might be it. I for one nearly overlooked that you had to select the icon after uploading.

  102. Mephane says:

    Just testing my Gravatar… ;)

  103. scragar says:

    like several other people it didn’t pick up on my choice first time, if your gravitar doesn’t appear try uploading it a second time and switching between the two. Not a perfect solution, but an easy one.

  104. maehara says:

    Shamu, you appear to have some gremlins:
    You don’t have permission to access /twentysidedtale/ on this server.

    Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
    Apache/1.3.37 Server at Port 80

    Get that when connecting from my home broadband. Can see you okay from the office connection – you don’t have any fancy anti-spam / banning plugins there that might be going awry?

  105. I think I set this up ages ago…

  106. SiliconScout says:

    just testing

  107. Clyde says:

    What the heck, let’s see if it works…

  108. Zukhramm says:

    “Oh no! There was a problem!

    There was a problem creating your gravatar. We’ve logged the error and will look into it. Try uploading your gravatar again in a few years.”

  109. karrde says:

    All those comments about non-working gravatars must have come when Shamus had the gravatars turned off.

    Thus the strangeness of non-working gravatars.

  110. AngiePen says:

    Huckleberry — oh, good grief. [facepalm] That was it; it never occurred to me that I’d have to “select” an icon when I’d only uploaded one. :P OK, let’s see if it works now. [crossed fingers]


  111. AngiePen says:

    Well, hopefully it’s just a matter of time. :/


  112. Rob says:

    These Gravatars are pretty cool. Thanks for sharing the technology with us. I enjoy your blog.

  113. Rob says:

    Except maybe I’m technically challenged here. I created one, but I’m not seeing it. Hmmm.

  114. Dev Null says:

    Thanks to the folks who mentioned adding a new icon, switching, and switching back. For whatever reason, it seems to have sorted me out too.

  115. Jansolo says:

    Here’s my Gravatar.

    That’s a good idea.

    The internet has scattered across millions of computers my identity (and the things related to me)

    I know that it’s based on a distributed architechture, but it is necessary to have some central repositories.

  116. AlphabetFish says:

    I, too, must test!

  117. Thom says:

    Cool, gravatars! I usually only read our website Shamus, but to test it, I will post something unnecessary. I also found out that you can add the same gravatar to multiple e-mail adresses. So no matter which adress I use, it shows the same picture!

  118. Thom says:

    See? Different e-mail, same picture ;)

  119. Jeff says:

    See what you’ve done, Shamus? I sign on only because all your readers who leave replies now have it, and so I must succumb.

  120. DarkLadyWolf says:

    Yay! New geek toy!

    Oh, and I can get to your website now :)

  121. Chris Arndt says:

    I don’t think my gravatar is working.

  122. Chris Arndt says:

    It is indeed, not working.

  123. M says:

    Mine doesn’t appear to be working either.

  124. Nazgul says:

    Gravatar test… Ignore. :)

    Dang, edit won’t let me delete this post.

  125. (belated) gravtar test?

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