To give comments a personal touch, you can display a tiny picture next to each
person’s thoughts. This picture, called an avatar, could be an actual photograph of
the person or something quirkier, like a mythical creature or cartoon character the
person has chosen to represent her. The idea is that the avatar helps your guests
see, at a glance, which comments belong to the same person, and it just might give
them a taste of the author’s personality (Figure 8-14). Avatars also add a visual
complement to web discussions, making a page of comments seem just a bit more
like a real conversation.
WordPress uses an avatar service called Gravatar, which is short for “globally recognized
avatar.” The idea is that ordinary people can use Gravatar to set up an avatar
and include some basic personal information. They can then use that image and
profile info on sites throughout the Web. Originally, Gravatar was a small service
cooked up by a single person, but these days Automattic runs the service, making
it freely available to virtually any blogging platform or website-building framework.
You don’t need to take any special steps to enable avatars; WordPress uses them
automatically. As you already know, every would-be commenter has to enter an email
address. When he does, WordPress contacts the Gravatar service and asks if it has
a picture affiliated with that address. If it does, WordPress displays the picture next
to the comment. If it doesn’t, WordPress shows a featureless gray silhouette instead.
Why Gravatars Make Good Sense
The obvious limitation to gravatars is that you won’t see
personalized images unless your readers sign up with the
Gravatar service. And unless your visitors are web nerds, they
probably haven’t signed up yet—in fact, they probably haven’t
even heard of Gravatar.
However, this dilemma isn’t as bad as it seems, for the following
• Gravatars are optional. Some people use them, others
don’t. There’s no downside to allowing gravatars on your
site. And if someone notices that another commenter gets
a personalized picture, that person just might ask about
how to get the same feature.
• Gravatars can be auto-generated. As page 267 explains,
you can replace the boring gray silhouettes for non-
Gravatar users with an auto-generated gravatar. The
neat thing about auto-generated gravatars is that they’re
unique and consistent, which means they can help people
identify comments left by the same person.
• Gravatar can coexist with Facebook and Twitter pictures.
As you’ll learn on page 270, you can get comment pictures
from Facebook and Twitter accounts. In this case, Gravatar
is just one more picture-gathering option that works in
harmony with the others.
• Gravatars have WordPress.com support. WordPress.
com users are more likely to have gravatars than other
people, because the Gravatar service is integrated with
the WordPress.com profile feature. If you’re a WordPress.
com fan, choose UsersÆMy Profile from the dashboard
to set your gravatar quickly and painlessly.
• You can remind your readers to get a gravatar. If you run
a self-hosted site, you can edit the comments.php file
in your theme (page 487) to add a reminder, like a link
that says “Sign up for a Gravatar and get a personalized
picture next to your comment.” Just don’t expect that
many people will follow your recommendation.
Changing the “Mystery Man” Gravatar
Hovercards appear only if your site runs on WordPress.com, or
if you’re a self-hoster using Jetpack
Gravatar Verified Services
As you’ve seen, the Gravatar service is more than just a way
to display your picture on different websites. It’s also a way
for you to store a mini-profile with a bio, some basic personal
details, and links to all the Gravatar-enabled websites you use.
This last part is one of Gravatar’s niftier features. It lets you
add links in your Gravatar profile that point to other social
websites or blogging services you belong to. For example, you
can add links to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Or you can
include a link to your photos on Flickr, your videos on YouTube
or Vimeo, your blog on WordPress (or Blogger, or Tumblr), and
your accounts on many other social sites.
When you first sign up with Gravatar, it doesn’t include any
of these links. You need to add them by editing your Gravatar
profile from the Verified Services section. Choose a service from
the list (like Facebook), and then click Add. Gravatar asks you
to sign in to set up the link. (This is why Gravatar calls them
verified services—it doesn’t actually add the link unless you
verify that it truly belongs to you.)
In the past, when you added a verified service, Gravatar
included a tiny icon for it in your hovercard (which was quite
cool and very convenient). Sadly, Gravatar no longer takes this
step, possibly to prevent spammers from abusing hovercards.
However, verified service links still appear in a clearly visible
place on the Gravatar profile page (Figure 8-19). To see them,
click the View Complete Profile button that appears in every