Contrary to what you might think when you first hear its name, a Gravatar is neither an Autobot nor a Decepticon. Rather, it is a Globally Recognized Avatar, an avatar (or image) that follows you to the WordPress blogs you go to online (Blogger doesn’t currently use Gravatars, but if you’re a Blogger user there are plugins you can download to display Gravatars on your site).
- Enter your email address
- Reply to the confirmation email that gets sent to that email address
- Choose a username (doesn’t really matter what it is) and a password
- Click to add a new image
- Select an image and crop it accordingly
- Select a rating for your image (more on that below)
- You’re done!
Once you’ve completed these steps, whenever you make a comment on a WordPress blog and enter your email address with the comment, the Gravatar associated with that email address will show up. Even though your email address will not be visible to people viewing your comment, your Gravatar will be visible. The Gravatar service within WordPress will look up your email address in the Gravatar’s bank of users and find the portrait associated with your email address. It will then display that picture beside your comment on the WordPress blog in the size dictated by the web site’s comment code. So your Gravatar will display in different sizes depending on the preferences of the person who set up the blog.
Gravatars can be rated G (General), PG (Parental Guidance), R (Restricted) or X (X-Rated). So, for example, you can choose to have two Gravatars; one of your face, and one of your privates (I don’t know why you would make a Gravatar of your privates… but you could). You could then set up the picture of your mug as your G-rated Gravatar, and the one of your privates as your X-rated Gravatar… for sites with a maximum Gravatar rating of G, PG and R your face would show up, and your naughty bits for sites that allowed X-rated Gravatars.
To set up your site to allow a certain rating of Gravatars on your WordPress blog, go to Settings on your WordPress dashboard, and click on Discussion. At the bottom of the page is a section for Avatars. Within this section you can choose to display or not to display avatars, the maximum rating of avatars that you will allow, and what the default avatar for visitors who have not yet set up an avatar should be.
Gravatars can also be displayed on your individual WordPress posts anywhere you like, by inserting the following PHP code in to your single.php file (or whatever file you use to display individual posts):
<?php echo get_avatar( get_the_author_email(), $size = '80'); ?>
If you look at the top right hand corner of this page, you’ll see this code in action – that image is being pulled from the Gravatar bank of portraits (if you right click on it and view it’s properties, you’ll see it’s coming from gravatar.com). When I registered as a user on this web site I entered my email address; the Gravatar is pulled from gravatar.com by using that author-specified email address. Note that you can change the size of the Gravatar by adjusting the $size variable. A word on this subject: Gravatars aren’t of excellent quality (I find they degrade significantly once you upload them to gravatar.com) so if you have a personal blog and are the sole poster, you might prefer to link to a better quality image within your site’s own infrastructure.
A couple of final notes: Gravatars go a long way toward building your personal brand online, so be careful what image you choose to use as your Gravatar! If you set up a new Gravatar and the email address you use is associated with comments that you have made in the past, your new Gravatar will show up on those comments. Also, if you change your Gravatar, wherever you have previously left a comment using the email address associated with the changed Gravatar, the new Gravatar will show up. If you do choose to upload an image of your privates (hint: don’t do it!) that image could suddenly pop up in hundreds of different places, without your being aware of it.
If you don’t have a Gravatar yet, why don’t you go ahead and get one now – they’re easy to choose and maintain, and they certainly add some personality to your online commentary.