Create your own vanity gravatar... then hash it
As you wander the web, you might notice that many people have a cute little photo associated with their name. For example, when I login to GitHub, Codepen, DigitalOcean, or many other sites, a mini-me magically appears.
If I write a comment, there I am again.
Where does mini-me come from? How could multiple companies all possess the same image of me? Are they secretly owned by one giant mega-corporation that tracks me everywhere I go?
Luckily, no. A gravatar is a "globally recognized avatar" and you create it yourself. You register it at Gravatar.com, associate it with an email address, and voila. If you don't have one yet, let's make one, and learn some stuff along the way.
Make your own gravatar
Find a nice picture of yourself. How nice? As nice as 2048-pixels square, that's how. They recently increased the allowable image size so people can inspect your nose hairs on their IPhones, but since your gravatar will usually be seen as an 80-pixel square, you don't need anything that huge.
Striking the right attitude is what counts. We don't want to see a blurry face cut out of your Thanksgiving dinner snapshot. Put some thought into it, Mon!
Here are some random examples of gravatars.
Personally, I like to see real people rather than cartoons or animals. My first programming class was an online program that lasted several months. I spent a lot of time interacting with the instructor -- hearing his voice during the live sessions, getting his feedback on my homework, "chatting" in the forums -- and it always felt weird and alienating that I never once saw what he looked like. I didn't want to stalk him, mind you, just to see if his face matched his voice... just see what he looked like, in a normal, human way for goodness sake.
(It was called Tealeaf Academy, now called LaunchSchool. Excellent program if you're interested in learning Ruby. I notice they still have no names or photos of the instructors. Maybe they're hideously deformed creatures, or FBI most wanteds. See what happens when you don't include a real photo in your gravatar? People think things.)
For my own gravatar, I chose to put a picture of me on the back of a pony when I was three. Why? Because I don't have any good pictures of my adult self, but more importantly, so that when people read my posts and comments, they will think, "Wow, what a smart 3-year old!" and hopefully won't say anything mean.
As you have probably surmised, your photo must be SQUARE. So crop it into a square shape. If I showed you how to do that, I would have to start ranting about how Windows Paint has been stripped of basic features like "constrain a selection to a square shape" that it had 20 years ago, so I won't. You'll just have to open Paint, use the selection tool, eyeball the little pixel counters at the bottom of the screen, and try to stop your jittery fingers precisely when the width is the same as the height.
Got it! Now click "Crop," and save your image. Then go to this website and create a gravatar account:
"But wait!" you say. "It says I have to login into my Wordpress account! I neither have nor want a Wordpress account."
I know, neither did I. It seems that Gravatar is a subsidiary of Wordpress. Don't worry, though, they won't force you to create a virus-laden, ad-ridden blog. They will just ask you to enter your email address and to upload an image, and then you'll never have to go back unless you want to change one of those two things.
As I was writing this, I was happy to discover that you can add multiple email addresses and images to your Gravatar account. So I decided to create a separate gravatar for my (er, future) business name, Casa 14 Studios. I entered my business email address and uploaded my tortuously-produced logo (it's a casa with a 14 in it, in case you can't tell). At first I thought it looked fine:
But then I ventured over to a couple of other websites where I use my business email, and, oh no! Ugly gravatar alert!
Yuk. It seems that some websites roundify your gravatar. And where is that orange dot coming from? And why is the other one all squished to the top? I don't know. But now I do know the second rule of gravatars:
Not only must your gravatar be SQUARE, it must also look good as a CIRCLE.
Back to the logo drawing board.
How do gravatars work?
You might be wondering, how does some random website "fetch" my gravatar? I was wondering that, too, so I took a look at their Developer Resources. Here's how they do it.
You go to a website and create an account, using your email address. They take that email address and "hash" it -- which means "turn it into secret code" -- using an algorithm called "MD5," which, since my name is Mary Dean, I assume was named after me.
To see how easy it is to turn your email address into an MD5 hash, hop over to this website, type your email address into the box, and press the button. While you are there, copy that hash into your clipboard.
It will look something like this:
With that long string of text, you, or anyone, can fetch your gravatar. Just type the following into a web browser, replacing my hash with your hash.
Press enter, and instantly you should see your 80-pixel face... or your dog's face, or whatever image you used for your gravatar.