What’s a favatar? It’s a favicon! It’s an avatar! It’s a portmanteau!
Well, really, a favatar is a profile picture hosted at the URL a commenter provides, with the filename favatar.png. I made it up!
Okay, so I’m not the first person to make it up. Apparently, a gentleman by the name of Paul James scooped me by a few years, with the same name and a rather similar idea for the same problem. I had this idea out of the blue, while in Montreal for Libre Graphics Meeting 2009, and was dismayed to find, again, that there is nothing new under the sun. So, I put it in my box of maybes.
… Until this weekend, when I added a WordPress plugin to display images for commenters, to make it easier to follow a thread and humanize the conversation. Something that has always bothered me about those images is that they usually come from a third-party service, Gravatar.com. This is actually owned by the same parent company that develops WordPress, and I am sure it’s a fine service for what it is, but I dislike such centralization where it isn’t necessary. There are some also-ran services like Wavatar, monsterID, OpenAvatar, and so forth, but Gravatar (or “Globally Recognized Avatar”) is the big one.
What’s the chief difference between a favatar (note the small f ) and a Gravatar (note the big G )? A favatar is a convention, not a service. It’s distributed. It’s cooperative. It’s web-like. It’s owned and controlled by the person, not (necessarily) by a proxy or host.
The problem I see with Paul’s original idea around favatars is that it revolves around reusing the favicon.ico, which is typically too small for the purpose of a comment avatar (though not always: ), and ‘*.ico’ files don’t display in the <img> element in all browsers. And stylistically, a favicon and an avatar seem to be distinct. As far as I’ve seen, despite a few plugins made, and some good conversation about it, the idea hasn’t really taken off, and the name is just too good to let lie fallow.
So, I put on my hacking mittens, and borrowed code from one or two existing Gravatar WordPress plugins, Easy Gravatars by Dougal Campbell and WordPress Gravatars by Rune Gulbrandsøy. Stir well, bake for 3 hours, and out comes Favatar Plus, my new WordPress plugin. It first looks to see if the commenter has supplied a website address, and if they have a file there called favatar.png (so far, I assume I’m the only person who does). Failing that, it falls back to a Gravatar, then to an Identicon (courtesy of Gravatar.com, actually), and ultimately, as a last ditch effort, falls back to their favicon, if found.
My original idea also included linking their image to a vCard called contact.vcf, if found at the same base URL, but in testing that, I found it a little unintuitive… you click it, and suddenly you’re opening iCal to import a stranger’s contact info when you just wanted to read their blog. So, I took that bit out, though I suppose I could make it optional. So, instead, it links to the base URL itself.
I do like the idea of a convention for everyone to expose their “about me” info, along with their favatar and contact info and favorite services, at some dereferenceable URL… a portable profile. Maybe I’ll play with that in some later version.
For now, I’ll see if anyone picks up on this and creates their own favatar.png image. I’ll be tickled pink if someone comments on this post and uses their newly minted favatar.