This question was posed by Dr. Tanya over at the SaltedCaramel blog. Its a great question but I don’t think its as straightforward as it at first seems. There are different elements to a gravatar, the persona being just one aspect. Yes, the persona is important, but so are the other bits
What is a Gravatar
Each of us with a presence online has a gravatar. It’s probably what you think of as your avatar or profile pic, but it is so much more. Just as a credit card or ID card can carry a lot of personal information about us on a microchip, your gravatar is the online electronic equivalent.
What is the purpose of the Gravatar
The gravatar, when properly set up, is the electronic representation of who you are, like the photograph on an ID badge. However, it is also like a business card containing your contact details. It provides others with a link back to you.
My online persona
The persona is a representation of who you are, but the key point is that its an online persona – it respresents who you are online; the personality you wish to portray. It may be part of who you are, or you may wish to have a very narrowly focused niche and therefore may not wish your photograph to be identified with your online identity or blog. There are differing opinions here, but its really down to personal preference.
As writers, we want to be genuine in our voice, so we need to think about whether we want to use a photograph or an avatar/image that we feel reflects who we are online. I would also point out that this stage that the gravatar does not necessarily just link with your WP identity – mine is also linked to my YouTube channel, so your Gravatar can and should link with your entire online presence.
For my part, it took me ages to decide on an image for both the blog site and my own avatar. I didn’t want to have a photograph of myself; I wanted something which expressed the idea of being at a starting point, with freedom to choose the direction I head. I plan to review and update the about me part of my site and my pages generally in the next few months. I may change my avatar but I still think its unlikely that I will use an image of myself as I want to portray the spirit of the blog and not just me as a person.
In addition to the online persona aspect of the gravatar it also acts as a digital identifier.
As indicated above, the digital identifier can also be linked to other accounts and as I said, mine is also linked to my YouTube channel. It can be useful to use someone’s Gravatar to pop to their blog/website and to communicate with them.
Gravatars need to be maintained and the links associated with it need to be kept up-to-date and functioning. If the links don’t work, it will show up as a broken link on any other sites you visit and leave comments.
Good blog housekeeping means we should run a broken link checker regularly as its bad for your site to contain broken links. It affects the reliability ratings of your site so you should remove broken links, including broken gravatars. I run my checks monthly and regretably as well as broken links to websites, it does also identify gravatars attached to comments and as such, to ensure the health of my own site, I have to remove some comments; at least a couple of comments every month.
I’ve just run a check and it identified 3 people leaving comments with “broken” gravatars. Some of those people had left multiple comments. Apparently having lots of broken links might also increase the amount of spam your site attracts.
Picking a gravatar to reflect your online identity is important as its our image online, but its equally important, if not more important to have a properly functioning gravatar. It is better to have a properly functioning gravatar with a persona you are comfortable with – whether that’s a photograph of yourself or an avatar or other image.
For more detailed technical guidance on gravatars, including how to set yours up properly, I recommend Hugh’s post on gravatars.
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