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Why Is Gravatar Still Not Mainstream?

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August 17th, 2009
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Remember Gravatar? That service Automattic acquired back on October 18th, 2007. It’s nearing two years since the acquisition and I don’t know about you but, I don’t feel as though Gravatar has gone mainstream. Just as a refresher course, the idea behind Gravatar is to host a globally-recognized avatar that is tied to an email address. This means that using your Gravatar is as simple as using the same email address to sign up to supported services/software that you used on Gravatar.com.

Same Idea Exists Today From 2004

Same Idea Exists Today From 2004

Doing a bit of history, Gravatar has been around since at least 2004. At least that is as far back as the Web Archive has records of it which makes it all the more surprising that more services and software do not support it out of the box. For example, Twitter, Facebook, phpBB, all have their own way of handling avatars. No support what so ever for the Gravatar service, even though there are numerous examples of how to implement it.

Could it be that we are really better off with each system managing avatars in their own way? Or is it the fact that most end users of various software and or services have not spoken loudly enough to have Gravatar support built in? My request is for software developers not to ditch their own avatar management solution, but to build Gravatar support in addition to. At least in this fashion, you could gauge how popular the use of Gravatar is to manage avatars on your software/service compared to your home grown solution opting to use one, the other, or both.

Gravatar is now hosted under the guide of Automattic, a company that has proven with WordPress.com that they know what they’re doing when it comes to scalability and server infrastructure. Users of bbPress, WordPress.com, and the self installed version of WordPress are spoiled to have Gravatar support built right into the software. To this day, I don’t think the Gravatar idea has come to fruition which is why I’m asking you to contact the developers of your favorite software or services which has its own version of avatar management and let them know you want Gravatar support to be built in. At the very least, a mod or plugin to add the functionality to the software should suffice.

If you participate in this event, be sure to let me know the response you receive in the comments below. Also feel free to link to plugins or mods that add Gravatar support to their respective pieces of software as it would be nice to have all of that information in one place.

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Comments

  1. Viper007Bond (91 comments.) says:

    While it can be problematic to rely on one site in the big scheme of things (god forbid one day Gravatar explodes in a firey ball of flames, as extremely unlikely as that is), I’m with you on this, especially as an option.

    For example when you sign up with a service, it could suggest to you “hey, we found you have a Gravatar. Want to use it here?”.

    Invision for example allows you to use a Gravatar instead of uploading your own image. Works great.

    • Brad Hart (6 comments.) says:

      I agree that maybe services should be doing more to pomp Gravatar. Maybe someone should write an after comment plugin for the various services that suggests people go get a gravatar.

  2. Sillydanemedia (2 comments.) says:

    I do not understand why it is still not a default option that you can upload your picture to your wordpress profile.

    • Shawn Ann (7 comments.) says:

      I’ve often wondered that myself. I mean, they have it set up to automatically put someone’s gravatar image or other avatar if they do not have a gravatar image associated with their account next to their comments (which they really need to update that section to some better avatars or allow you to upload your own).

      I’m not familiar with coding, but I’d think that it would be fairly easy to implement it that when a new user is added they can upload or point to a URL for their own avatar (although this would kind of do away with gravatar for wordpress at least) or have it set that if you do not select an avatar that it goes to gravatar and if there is no account for that email then it goes to the default set within the discussion settings.

    • Sue Bailey (10 comments.) says:

      Another vote for this. I’ve had to explain to a few people recently that if they want their picture by their comments, they have to go off to another website to sign up for one separately. And it’s even more incomprehensible why “sign up for Gravatar” isn’t included in WordPress user registration.

      • Nathan Phillip Brink (Binki) (1 comments.) says:

        Shouldn’t it be obvious to users that they are avoiding the hassle of uploading an avatar to each web service they use? I found myself annoyed when http://friendfeed.com/ required me to refind my local copy of my avatar. I had to manually download my gravatar copy or cpoy it from my central system — I forget — and both tasks should be unnecessary since I have a Gravatar!

  3. Thomas Clausen (15 comments.) says:

    I think there’s a bunch of reasons why it hasn’t taken completely off:

    1. It is too easy for big players like Facebook to make their own.
    2. There’s little added value. I would like to see something like following peoples actions around the web added.
    3. It is not easy enough to setup for new users. When new users have commented, Why isn’t there a link on the empty avatar, that lead the user to a page on Gravatar, where his mail is already selected?

    • Vladimir (1 comments.) says:

      Why isn’t there a link on the empty avatar

      Because you don’t know in advance whether the user has an avatar.

      Look at the URL of your gravatar: it has “d” parameter — the ID of the default avatar (in this case it is ad516503a11cd5ca435acc9bb6523536) if your email is not associated with any gravatar.

      Thus it is gravatar.com that decides which icon to show and that checks if the user has a gravatar, not your WordPress blog.

      where his mail is already selected

      Even if this were possible, this feature would disclose email addresses of all users not having a gravatar. Spamers would be vry grateful to you.

      • Thomas Clausen (15 comments.) says:

        Funny enough Justin Tadlock has made a solution for this :-)

        Unfortunately, you need to be a registered member to see the solution.

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        If you like, it’s not hard to check for the existence of a gravatar for an address via javascript.

        Example how here: http://www.wptavern.com/forum/.....l#post6592

        • Thomas Clausen (15 comments.) says:

          This new Plugin (Gravatar Box) by you Otto makes it much more fun to play with Gravatar.

          Another thing Automattic could expand their Gravatar service with is Name and Website.

          That way I should only punch in my e-mail, and Gravatar also becomes Grname and Grsite :-)

          Just imagine how many times you write a comment on a blog, then multiply that by the amount of users that also has a Gravatar, and then multiply that by how many seconds it takes to write your name and your website.

          Let’s say there’s 1 mio users that write 1 comment a day (I think this is a conservative guess), and it takes 1 second to write the name and 1 second to write the website. Then Automatiic could save the Gravatar users (accumulated of course) from 23 years of wasted time a year. :-)

  4. Ryan Rampersad (9 comments.) says:

    In my own projects, I always add a gravatar option. I really like gravatar and I think twitter at the very list should add it as an option. I get the feeling though that projects are reluctant to add gravatar because they didn’t do it first.

  5. Ryan (55 comments.) says:

    The likes of FaceBook have no interest in helping you visit other websites. They already have a large proportion of the internet hooked on their service and if they were interested in using a global avatar system I think they would be far more likely to build something to compete against Gravatar rather than promote one of their competitors services.

    Plus it would be risky for a big site like that to rely on a much smaller company powering a major feature of their site.

  6. Morten Brunbjerg Bech (1 comments.) says:

    I think that Gravatar will fail to become mainstream as long as the user firsly has to manually go to a different site (gravatar.com) and then secondly go through a completely different process of setting up a new profile account.

    Gravatar needs to be more integrated with the process the user is already going through: Setting up a profile at some website. In other words, it needs to be an option in any account creation process.

    For example, when the user reaches the point of uploading a profile image (an avatar) he should be prompted whether or not he wants to make it a gravatar. If possitive, an account should be automatically created at gravatar.com and the image should be automatically uploaded.

    Thus, what Gravatar needs to become more mainstream, is more relevance in the processes the users are already doing.

    • theCount (4 comments.) says:

      this is very true, and probably the best way to “push” gravatars into the mainstream. Sites like facebook however will always prefer the “walled garden” to an open format.

  7. Kimon (1 comments.) says:

    Like others have mentioned above, the other services have no reason to.

    They run businesses and don’t have an answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”. They already have an avatar service and see no ROI whatsoever in spending the money (in a tight economy to boot) on something seemingly superfluous.

    Plus, as Ryan above mentions, they’ll have to rely on a small company for a critical part of their UI.

  8. Robert Accettura (4 comments.) says:

    Not really a big fan personally because it slows things down, and quite frankly it’s not a necessary feature.

    It’s not really “design”, it’s not “content”, and it’s not “utility”, it’s purely an extra. Why have the extra objects slowing down the page, and the dependency on a 3rd party service?

    • Tom says:

      Actually, lots of people find Gravatars useful because they identify posters at a glance, which can be particularly useful when moderating comments.

  9. kgraeme says:

    I work with a few corporate WordPress MU installations and we’re opting for a local avatar solution. Using Gravatars is added confusion for users, more administrative headache for us when users come asking why their picture isn’t right, and just doesn’t provide enough value to be worth the effort of using a third party service.

  10. Sara (2 comments.) says:

    My own web-design clients are not gravatar fans because many do not like the fact that gravatars are squares/equilaterals — the layout inflexibility turns them off.

    Also, nobody has written (as far as I can tell) a really killer gravatar plugin for WordPress to allow you to create and manage avatars on your site for authors who don’t have gravatars. There are a couple of adequate-at-best plugins for this, but maybe WordPress should step in and improve the integration of gravatar-substitute photos as part of user profile information.

    Just my $.02

  11. Martin (20 comments.) says:

    Gravatar needs a way for users to be able to signup to Gravatar from within a comment form. Some sort of popup/ajax signup without leaving the current window.

    A signup plugin was created a few years back and I remember using it and it was so easy to signup to the Gravatar service via a comment form. Maybe a revamped plugin could be made by the Automattic team?

    http://wordpress.org/extend/pl.....ar-signup/

  12. Joe Federer Photography (1 comments.) says:

    I don’t use gravatars (as an end user) for a few reasons:

    1) I don’t see the benefit – especially on a lot of disparate, disconnected, random sites.

    2) It seems complicated to set up given the minor benefit one might receive.

    3) I don’t want something following me from place to place. I’ve got my persona at web-location-X and my persona at web-location-Y and I don’t necessarily want them to be the same.

    • pdxfooddude (1 comments.) says:

      “I don’t want something following me from place to place. I’ve got my persona at web-location-X and my persona at web-location-Y and I don’t necessarily want them to be the same.”

      This is the number one reason I hear. Lots of people seem to have different persona’s they like to use. An options screen that is easy for the user to manage might solve that problem.

  13. Donna says:

    I don’t know anyone who is particularly interested in using an avatar in their blog comments. Is it possible that avatars just appeal to a small subset of blog users? (and hence, Gravatar)?

  14. Lefebvre (3 comments.) says:

    Well, if twitter, facebook and others don’t want to use gravatar, make gravatar use then. Open Id, google login and other things in gravatar site would make the end user’s live easier. Auto-update gravatar for Adium, MSN (can be done?) and others IM can add value to service. Don’t wait for them.

    • joe says:

      there is a plugin for msnplus (which is not a “virus”, ffs, over with that!), worked perfectly. i’m still trying the same for adium, but no luck yet.

      hey, why no gravatar login here yet?! where’s my pic? deng..

  15. Lefebvre (3 comments.) says:

    Another useful tip is use prettyphoto plugin to just open gravatar sign in site in ajax, and my reader don’t leave my site to get it. I did this when with gravatars plugin. Now, in WP 2.8, I will need to mess around the comments core code, I think, but I love the autoupdate function, no way I will upgrade my WP via FTP again.

  16. gestroud (3 comments.) says:

    It’s actually kind of ironic/oxymoronic that Gravatars – Globally Recognized Avatars – aren’t recognized by the majority of mainstream web sites. :-(

  17. Dougal Campbell (35 comments.) says:

    Hmmm, perhaps what Gravatar.com needs is an API which allows third-party services to manage accounts, upload images, etc, seamlessly.

    One good step recently is the new ‘404’ support. With this, developers can now know whether or not the user already has a Gravatar, and if not, fall back to a local avatar, direct the user to the Gravatar sign-up, or whatever, instead of just displaying the default “I don’t have a Gravatar” image.

    But with a real API (and some good ready-to-use libraries for various languages and frameworks), they might get a little more buy-in.

  18. Bob Smithson says:

    Because gravatar is spyware like so many ‘free’WordPress plugins. It’s whole purpose is to track user activity.

    • Jeff Chandler (171 comments.) says:

      Please tell me you’re joking.

      • kgraeme says:

        Actually, there’s some truth to it. Gravatars do provide data-mining opportunities for Automattic on what sites Gravatar users visit. Considering the lack of ubiquity of Gravatar support on sites, it’s not a terribly good tracking metric, but they undoubtedly do have the metrics.

    • Martin (20 comments.) says:

      It would be nice to have a feature that once logged into Gravatar.com it would show you what sites your Gravatar has been used on.

  19. Chris (29 comments.) says:

    I recently contacted the developer of AvatarGrabber about adding Gravatar support. AvatarGrabber is a plugin for Funambol, the open source mobile sync software that uses SyncML. AvatarGrabber lets you import pictures into your address book from several social networks, and the developer was able to easily add support for Gravatar with a little help, so anyone with a Gravatar in my address book now has a picture.

    As for needing an API, maybe that will bring further adoption, but I don’t think it is necessary. It is relatively easy to hash an email address and check for a gravatar.

    The issue I have with Gravatar is that I don’t like to put my email address in every site I comment on (some sites have used the commenters email addresses to send spam), so I’ve had to add a throwaway email address to my Gravatar account that I use to comment with. It isn’t a problem, but I think some people don’t want to share their email address.

    • Dougal Campbell (35 comments.) says:

      My point about an API was less about the difficulty of adding Gravatars to a platform, but more about the usability for end-users. As pointed out above, many people don’t like the experience of needing to sign up on Yet Another Service in order to get an avatar. They want it provided by the site that they are logged into *right now*.

      By providing an API, third-party platforms and services could internalize the avatar handling and account creation, making it appear that it was a native part of their app, while passing the real work off to Gravatar under the table.

      The hard part would be the authentication — if you’re auto-creating a Gravatar account on behalf of the user, how do you handle a password for the Gravatar service? But OAuth seems to be catching on pretty good, and it might be a good fit for this.

  20. Jared Spurbeck (2 comments.) says:

    I think that the problem, for me, with Gravatars is that they’re not an open standard. They’re incredibly convenient, yes, but they aren’t OpenID … they are controlled by one company. That’s not good in the long run.

    Gravatar’s a good idea, but it’s neither open nor democratic, and it ought to be both in order to be universal. Otherwise we’re all trusting a part of our online identity to Automattic, and while I love these guys for WordPress I don’t trust anyone that much.

    I picked up a Gravatar awhile back, but I’m really iffy about recommending it to other people or building support for it into my sites. I’d rather not see it become mandatory, because then things could get bad whether it’s anyone’s fault or not.

  21. that girl again (41 comments.) says:

    Like I said when Automattic bought the thing: gravatars are just another pointless bit of blog decor, like weatherpixies and those little 80×15 buttons everyone used to have in their sidebars. The majority of blog commenters couldn’t care less whether they have an ickle picture next to their name, and if they did I would have to question their priorities.

    I’m not surprised that major sites are unwilling to farm out avatars to a third party. It’s a trival part of their services which is easily handled inhouse. The likes of Twitter and Facebook have no incentive to share their data with Automattic, and their users would probably be extremely upset if they tried to do so.

    • Dougal Campbell (35 comments.) says:

      “The likes of Twitter and Facebook have no incentive to share their data with Automattic, and their users would probably be extremely upset if they tried to do so.”

      Twitter uses Amazon S3 to store avatar images. I don’t see anybody screaming about conspiracy theories due to Amazon.com potentially getting statistics out of it…

      • Ann-Kat (Today, I Read...) (6 comments.) says:

        Twitter uses Amazon S3 to store avatar images. I don’t see anybody screaming about conspiracy theories due to Amazon.com potentially getting statistics out of it…

        I think that might be because most people have heard of Amazon and know who they are and are more inclined to trust them.

        Automattic is still relatively unknown to the general populace and therefore has not earned that level of trust. When they are a household name, then maybe more people will be inclined to trust them with their private data.

        It’s not an infallible system, it’s just how it is.

      • that girl again (41 comments.) says:

        This is probably because your average Twitter user neither knows nor cares that Amazon is hosting their avatars. As far as they’re concerned, Twitter is handling that for them. But if you take them offsite and make them sign up with some other random company, they will know, and they will care.

  22. Ann-Kat (Today, I Read...) (6 comments.) says:

    Because I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, one also needs to consider that there are some services/software that don’t use e-mail address for identification of commenters, therefore Gravatar implementation will not work. (I’m thinking of Google’s Blogger off the top of my head.)

    As others have said, the question “what’s in it for me?” needs to be answered in order for more services and companies to start adopting it, plus it needs to be more flexible in how it identifies commenters–what happens when someone starts randomly using someone else’s email address?

  23. Michael Visser (2 comments.) says:

    Gravatar support built into Microsoft Passport so my login picture syncs up with my Gravatar avatar would be sweet… oh oh, MSN Messenger with Gravatar.

  24. John wheel (1 comments.) says:

    I am not a big fan of Gravatar and have never used it till now , but i think all big players should use one common service to extract images and other similar things

  25. raja (1 comments.) says:

    I discovered Gravatar quite by accident. When I added support to Gravatar using a plugin to wordpress, I did discover that there was no intuitive way I can suggest my commenters to go get themselves a gravatar so we can see them.

    This I think accounts for the non popularity of the service. Disqus is another competing service that is used by popular blogs like Mashable. I do like disqus in a way since we can then browse all that a person does across multiple blogs. But I can see why Disqus is not that popular since people might be reluctant to have their blog comments given away to another service.

    I think Gravatar and Disqus indicate an unexplored opportunity of somehow maintaining an online identity in a common place. It is an opportunity inviting a business plan.

  26. Rahul Bansal (1 comments.) says:

    I guess gravatar should provide API using which third party services can add upload picture field on their web pages.
    For example,
    Consider wordpress default profiles.
    They can made to have an upload picture field where avatar will be uploaded to gravatar with profile email address is associated with it.

  27. robb (5 comments.) says:

    i can only think of this 2 reasons:

    1. i need/want one single avatar across every websites so that i can control my avatars in one place. hence comes gravatar.

    2. i need/want different avatar for different websites, let’s say bcos i put up different identity for every website. so i don’t need gravatar.

    this is all i can think of.

  28. bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

    Well…there’s a couple of issues with the Gravatar system in relation to blogs specifically.

    1. People don’t like to sign up for a WP account just to make 1 comment.
    2. If Gravatar was supported in a more global like system, for instance, OpenID, then it would be more useful, but because you have to sign up for yet another separate account, again, people don’t want to go thru all that just to make 1 comment on a blog.

    The point is, with so many different blogging platforms out there, bbpress, wordpress, moveabletype, bloggar, etc etc, in order for people to agree to sign up for an account, they have to come up with some sort of globally recognized system that supports all of the major players in blog software, such as blogger, moveabletype, typepad, etc etc. As long as that is in place, nobody will sign up for an account on your blog. Most of my family are used to MT blogs, so my brother inlaw installed the facebook connect plugin, and I added it to mine too, which alone has increased my user comment and registrations by 100%. People would rather use accounts they already have, then sign up for an account just on 1 site to make 1 comment on 1 site…ya know?

  29. bubazoo (213 comments.) says:

    Let me put it another way, people are more willing to sign up for an account on a discussion forum, because they interact there on a daily basis. but a blog, is just reading, so people don’t generally sign up for accounts on blogs because there’s not enough social interaction to warrant a user registration system. Thats why on a blog, its better to accept accounts users already have, because they’ll be more willing to leave a comment that way. The majority of people don’t even goto sites anymore to read content on blogs, instead they use the RSS Feed system, which again doesn’t really give users much of an incentive to register for an account. I don’t think even a celebrity blog would warrant a user registration, but like I said, discussion forums are different because you interact there more. I’d rather sign up for a bbpress account then a wordpress account, just because there’s more to do, but at the same time, I don’t need bbpress because I already have a discussion forum solution I’m paying good bucks for.

    What I think would be cool, is a way to combine the user registration system of wordpress to other forum platforms, maybe then I’d get more users registering to comment, otherwise users would rather use accounts they already own, like gamil, facebook, myspace, etc etc.

  30. Suneel (2 comments.) says:

    Most of the bloggers I am aware of are mostly shy to even place their images on their blog’s About pages. And some do not even mention their real names.

    I presume uploading an image should be made mandatory while building up profile in the initial stages itself.

  31. Annemieke (1 comments.) says:

    Wouldn’t it be possible to have a plugin that lets you choose which account you want to use as a reader?

    On some blogs you can already choose between Disqus, Twitter and Facebook or something like that. I found out today that Blogger also has different options. But they are all accounts I do not have (and I have many already) except WordPress.com. But if I choose that I can not use my own name, it gives my account name. And Gravatar was no option unfortunately.

    And although I would love it, if there was just one that was mainstream (one account, one password, one picture, sounds great to me) I do not see it happen.

    So one that leaves the reader with a choice seems a good alternative to that. Not to complicated and just one click and also the possibility to leave a commment without any linking if you want that, something that was not possible on Blogger (as far as I know).

    Or would that be to complicated or slow things down, or are there to many opposite interests for something like that?

  32. Hicham Maged (36 comments.) says:

    Maybe it’s not popular for mainstream social media sites because such sites “think” that since ‘Gravatar’ was acquired by ‘Automattic’ therefore it is a “WordPress” stuff! Maybe and maybe not!

    • zes (2 comments.) says:

      I think you’re right. Since some sites don’t support wordpress or prefer something else, it follows that they back away from anything related to wordpress. Kinda childish though!

  33. Consciência Planetária (7 comments.) says:

    Gravatar is good for comment systems, but when we come to more complex community systems…

    Foruns are known for having somewhat big avatars and even bigger signs. Ppl would be angry if they were limited to an almost-favicon-sized avatar.

  34. Molly Smith (1 comments.) says:

    As big as WordPress is, truly making Gravatar or Global Avatar requires the adoption by some of the major social networks. Today, we have Facebook Connect, Twitter, OAuth, OpenID, etc and they are still way too fragmented. Truly global can only happen when all the major players adopt it. Having said that, be nice if Automattic figures it out.

  35. Beau Lebens (2 comments.) says:

    There are some great comments here, and some very good points, I think there are a few that specifically apply to why Gravatar is not adopted more widely (yet):

    – Sites want to control as much of their data as they can: they see farming avatars out to Gravatar as “giving up” too much control. Using Gravatar as a fall-back option is one approach here, but this attitude will hopefully change with time.

    – Signup flow: the current process of getting set up with a Gravatar is too fragmented to fit into most registration/commenting flows. It’s not easy enough to sign up for a Gravatar if you don’t have one. We’re going to be addressing this going forward with some more options for developers.

    – What’s in it for me?: People don’t necessarily want to sign up for *another* account, *just* to get an image. There needs to be more “in it for me” for users to sign up. We’re starting to address this with the addition of profiles (and more to come).

    There are a lot of things planned for Gravatar, and we’re just now starting to test the waters with where to go from here.

  36. Dan T says:

    I found it offensive that WordPress forced Gravatar only on me and provided no upload or url option for any basic avatar whatsoever, I thought open source is about having fair choices, as far as statistics go, its all about user tracking and the bucks that could produce after all at the end of the day a gravatar image is nothing but a web bug, every time a page is loaded to be read the url of the blog, ip of user and a host of other info including title is data mined, not to mention if the user is registered now the email is tracked as well as any other data they can match that up to. gravatars are hard coded in the wordpress themes now, so lets say the drill baby drill republican party want to pay to find out the hit count on popular democratic blogs, or wordpress wants to use stats to backup how many blogs they have in use, where would you go for that data? you guessed it gravatar.com and its going to cost you money. gravatar is all about the money the idea I’m sure was created from day one to cash in, its not there to make life easy on people that’s just a positive by product if that’s your thing, personally I don’t like my site being tracked and sold.

  37. Ted Clayton (1 comments.) says:

    A year and half after this post went up … and it’s relevance has increased.

    Avatars themselves are overrated & oversold. Then along comes Gravitar and compounds the issues.

    It’s getting worse, not better. First, my clear impression from wide surfing is, more people are now “considered” non-participants in the avatar exercise. They’ve considered it, and they’d rather not do it.

    Secondly, some avatar people are now doing things with the avatar-content that are becoming actively obnoxious. Gravatar is doing things that exacerbate some the downsides of avatars.

    Avatars increase the value of being an established persona on a given venue. At the same time, the casual visitor who does not have an avatar or a Gravatar account, has her contribution ‘marked’ by a ‘shady/unknown’ figure-image … or by some bizarre made-up graphic icon that emphatically is not her avatar or anything remotely related or relevant to her. Or to her contribution.

    Avatar systems, and Gravatar, should as ‘step one’, stop forcing fictitious graphics onto the content provided to websites by contributors in the form of comments.

    Look at this way. You write an article or post about something. There is no particular role for pictures in what you have to say, and you don’t include any. However, Google (in it’s infinite wisdom) decides that your article would be more interesting, if it DID have some pictures scattered through it. Sooo … they hire Gravitar to make up totally BS images and position them in your content.

    That’s exactly what is happening now, with avatars & Gravitar, on most blogs, every day.



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