About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

Gravatars & Comment Links

By Shamus
on Monday Dec 10, 2007
Filed under:


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.

Comments (128)

1 2

  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. 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).

  9. bargamer says:

    Elves love eating donuts. That is all. XDDD

  10. 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?

  11. Tango says:

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

  12. Helge says:

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. wererogue says:

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

    … Yes!
    Nice job :)

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Mordaedil says:

    Let’s see about this…

  22. Amanda says:

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

  23. Jacob says:

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

  24. 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.

  25. Eric J says:

    Testing my brand-new Gravatar account.

  26. 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…

  27. Gahaz says:

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

  28. Gahaz says:

    Hmm, what am I doing wrong…

  29. General Ghoul says:

    Testing, testing. One, two, three…

  30. Phlux says:

    Dogsnake, I choose you!

  31. 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?

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. Gothmog says:

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

  36. 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.

  37. 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).

  38. scum18 says:

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

  39. 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!

  40. Telas says:

    Testing the Gravitar.

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

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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


  44. 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”.


  45. william says:

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

    WHOO fourtieth post

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

  47. Huckleberry says:

    What else. :)

  48. Tryss says:

    I don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon.

  49. Curaidh says:

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

  50. 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…

  51. mos says:

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

  52. Feylamia says:

    Yay – I love blogs with gravatar support. :)

  53. 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.


  54. Telas says:

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

  55. 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.)

  56. 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.)

  57. 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.

  58. 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…

  59. 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.

1 2

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>