On Avatars

Why can’t they look at least a little like the person they represent?

Like so many techno-geeks these days, I’m involved in a bunch of social networking sites: Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, RedBubble, Flickr, MyBlogLog, etc. And all of these sites give each member the ability to include an avatar — an image to represent that user.

Maria Langer AvatarMaybe I’m not very creative, but my avatar is a photo of me. It was taken by photographer Jon Davison during one of our flights last September. It shows me in one of my favorite places: at the controls of my helicopter, flying over the Arizona desert. (I think I’m over the Little Colorado River Gorge in this shot.)

The way I see it, my avatar is supposed to represent me. What could represent me better than a photo of me doing something I like to do?

Evidently, not everyone has the same idea. While many of the avatars I see in Twitterrific are photos or drawings of the people they represent, quite a few are not. And in other social networking sites — MyBlogLog comes to mind — the majority of avatars don’t bear any resemblance to the people they’re supposed to represent.

I find this bothersome, especially among my Twitter friends. Why? Well, in most cases, an avatar is the only visual representation I have for a person. If the avatar features purple hair or a goofy cartoon face — you know who you are, folks! — that’s the image I have of that person. And it’s a lot tougher for me to take these unrealistic avatars seriously.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I find it easier to communicate with people I can take seriously.

A few more notes on avatars:

  • Some people seem to like using their Second Life avatars as their social networking avatar. While I could write a dissertation covering my thoughts about Second Life — starting with, is your first life so bad that you need a second one? — I’ll just say that Second Life avatars are generally a highly stylized version of how people want to look. While few of us are supermodels, surely there’s a decent photo of these people somewhere that they can use online.
  • Some people use glamour photos for avatars. I have a colleague who does this. When I met her in real life, I didn’t recognize her. Let’s face it, we only look like our glamour photos in our glamour photos — after they’ve done the photo shoot and brought our faces into Photoshop for some digital plastic surgery. Every time I see this avatar, I have to remind myself that she doesn’t really look like the photo. (Of course, it’s also made me want to get a glamour photo.)
  • Some people use photos of their pets as avatars. Talk about going to the dogs! Do the dogs really look better? Or do they just identify with their dogs? Ditto for cats, birds, and miscellaneous wild animals.

Of course, none of this has to do with special-purpose avatars used to promote an idea or cause. An example is the Frozen Pea avatars that many of us wore on Twitter for a few Fridays to raise awareness and funds for Breast Cancer Research through the Frozen Pea Fund. I was a single pea for the day. My favorite avatar was one Twitter friend who created an image of his head sticking out of a pea car.

But I’d like to start a movement among serious social networkers. Be proud of your face and show it off as your avatar! It doesn’t have to be a full-face shot; it can be creative. (Some of the best avatars I’ve seen show only part of a person’s face.) But it should show you, as you really are.

I’d just like to see who I’m tweeting to.

8 thoughts on “On Avatars

  1. Interesting thoughts on Avatars. As a member of a bunch of sites, I’ve noticed some of the same things.

    Quite a few of my friends are running online business and us a logo as their avatars. When they’re networking as part of their businesses I think that can be a good and legitimate reason to use a logo and not a picture.

    But, what do I know… I use either a picture or a drawing of myself.


    Nifty Galoot’s last blog post..Tuesdays Topic – Traveling

  2. I definitely agree. A company logo is a great avatar — if you’re representing the company.

    It could also get you in big trouble if you have nothing to do with the company, especially if you don’t have nice things to say about it!

  3. Oh Maria, here’s the day when I finally disagree with you. I’m a believer in principles before personalities, so my use of an avatar really represents what I am doing these days.

    For you, that is being at the helm of a helicopter. For me, its cycling.

    Trust me, no one wants to see me in spandex ::shudder:: but they do want to about what I am doing (I hope) and my zippy red bike avatar clearly lets you know who I am or what my passion is.

    Of course, for business related networking I do use our logo, but unlike Millie, that doesn’t get me tickled under the chin.

    Cys Bronner’s last blog post..Favorite New Quote

What do you think?