My avatar has changed.
Uh oh. Big deal, you might think – some people change their avatars as often as they change shoes. And so do I – but not here at my work blog.
For the past half year I’ve been writing under a stranger’s face – a “spare” avatar bestowed upon me by Isaac until yesterday.
At first, I found it awkward to write and felt slightly irritated by being represented by a stranger. Whenever I published a post, this mean, hungry little lady with black hair and a sour pout would pop out like a Jack in the Box from somewhere deep inside WordPress, ready to devour my every character. I’d look at the site and feel disconnected from my words. Now the blog post was hers… she even wore my name!
At Made by Many, we have a love/hate relationship with our work avatars. Drawn by an artist who’s been given quite a lot of artistic license, we’re not always in agreement weather a whiff of green to our skin tone or a splash of purple hair really help bring out our best features…. Some of us have now and then been known to refuse to blog under these “dreadful caricatures”, but the truth is that they do make us feel like a team and we all wear them like a badge of honor. “At least we don’t take ourselves too seriously!” says William.
But self-representation and avatar usage can be a serious matter online. The avatars we chose to represent ourselves have an impact on how we behave and also on how we’re perceived online.
That’s why sites that easily allow you to change your avatar often are more engaging and interactive. People change their avatar to reflect their mood, send secret messages to other friends, display self- attributes, social role, a fantasy representation of who they want to be or they might just want to provoke. Just look at this collection of people from the Metrotwin homepage:
If you look closer at the Metrotwin people, you’ll find a lot of stereotypical usage: The football enthusiast, the pet lovers, the travelers, the proud parent, the beauty, the humorist, the hobbyist, the eye, the cartoonist, the standard portrait and so on. And if you hit refresh when you’re on the site – you’ll see these types repeat again and again. I find this incredibly fascinating – seeing people’s creative use of avatars make me much more interested in finding out what’s going on at a site and communicate with the people who use it.
But not all of us are fans of creative self representations online… In a talk on Facebook given by Blake Chandlee last year, he mentioned his dislike of people who aren’t using their real photo to represent themselves, especially those touting a pet pic on their profile.
I first thought he was just being funny… but then I came across this thread on a FB discussion group where people complain that their profiles are deleted when they use “fluffy” avatars and “kittens” as profile pics. Says Pamela Noordman:
Facebook is one of the better examples there is of a site that makes it easy and fun for people to maintain multiple avatars. So why they give their user this functionality just to tell them later they don’t like the way they use it is beyond me…
Although I’d always be supporting the user’s right to wear the hat they want and my Facebook avatar seldom stays the same for more than a few days – I’m not entirely disagreeing with Chandlee. The amount of complaints I’ve gotten from twitter followers who’re confused when they come from twitter to this blog proves the importance of a consistent, recognizable avatar.
I’m very happy to finally blog under an avatar that look and feel more like myself, although the first comment I got on my new, real avatar was someone questioning weather or not I was wearing a fox on my head…now that was a bit rude, don’t you think?