The avatar problem

I’ll be at ONA09 for the next few days, where I’ll meet, probably, a few hundred people I know from the Internet.

But they don’t know me.

I mean, they know what I say and write and produce online, but most of them know my avatar better.


That’s the one.  I’m sitting outside at a Cambridge, Massachusetts metro stop in December 2006 on a cold day during a break in an epic walk around Boston with my wife, wearing a (beloved, but now lost) hat she knit for me.

That’s the story of the avatar, but frankly, I’m considerably larger than a 73px by 73px image.

An example of the reactions the avatar problem leads to, from a much later date in Cambridge:

Picture 1

Of course, meeting in person largely solves the avatar problem.

Look for me at ONA. I’ll be the guy wearing the name tag that says “Ryan Sholin” on it.

How Important are Avatars? – Bokardo

Joshua Porter on the importance of avatars in social applications: “Trust is a crucial byproduct of avatars that we can leverage in design. In one of my current consulting projects we’re working on what you might call “time to first known avatar”. That is, we are trying to speed up the time it takes for someone new to the service to see a familiar face…the faster they see the face the faster they’ll get comfortable with the software. If the time it takes for them to see a familiar face is too long, then they might very well give up because it doesn’t feel as welcoming. But if we can instill a sense of presence of friends early on, we’ll have tilted the cards in our favor.”

How Important are Avatars? – Bokardo