Get Your Gravatar On
As a web professional, you have to make a conscious decision about what appears on your website. With so many many widgets, gadgets, and ad networks vying for the virtual real estate of your site, it's easy to see how quickly you can lose sight of what's really important - those visiting your Web property. One way to bring some soft features (those which add value while not distracting at the same time) into a Web property and give back a little to users is to reward them for commenting, sharing, etc. through the use of avatars. One way to do this is to use Gravatar.
Gravatar (an abbreviation for globally recognized avatar) is a service for providing globally-unique avatars. They're global in the sense that users can use them wherever they are online. On Gravatar, users can register an account based on their email address, and upload an avatar to be associated with the account. Gravatar plugins are available for WordPress (provided natively in WordPress as of v2.5) and are available as a third-party module in the Drupal web content management system and many others. As of late, I'm seeing more commercial CMS and blogging systems making Gravatar (or at least avatars) support native - and that's a good thing.
How It Works: When the user posts a comment on a blog that requires an email address, the software checks whether that email address has an associated avatar at Gravatar. If so, the Gravatar is shown along with the comment.
For WordPress users, there are actually quite a few gravatar plugins that might come in handy to add some virtual punch to your WP installation. The most popular seems to be WP-Gravatar, which lets bloggers use Gravatar, MyBlogLog, OpenAvatar, Wavatar, Identicon, monsterID or Favico.ico files with comments and allows publishers to set their own CSS style to use with the comments section and the author about box. It's been downloaded nearly 25K times, but there are some great alternatives including Easy Gravatars, Wavatars, and Gravatar (and userpics).
Learn more about Gravatars here.
Other options for creating a stronger sense of community might be to use the newly released Google Friend Connect or Facebook Connect. Do you enable users to display avatars or gravatars? Do you feel it has provided value to your online community? Let us know by commenting below.