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In an ideal text-based communication platform, each participant is nothing more than their words and the name they choose. This constraint makes it much less likely that people will be judged on things they can’t control, e.g. appearance or ability to create or choose a pleasing avatar. Lobsters, being primarily text-based, is very close to this ideal. All it would take to get us all the way there is to drop user avatars. I don’t think it would be a great loss, and in a small way, it would make us all more equal.

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    I like the avatars and oppose this proposal.

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      This exists, albeit not by default. The Show User Avatars setting in the Miscellaneous Settings section of your account page toggles avatar visibility.

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        Avatars help me identify people faster, so I prefer something to complement the usernames.

        I used to have a Gravatar account but I deleted it a while back, and I don’t want to create one just for this specific purpose, so a plain image upload would be my ideal, but otherwise the autogenerated Gravatars are perfectly adequate, and I, personally, don’t assign (I don’t think) more or less value to anyone’s words based on that.

        It would be equally fine if they were colored discs with the username initial in them.

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          Why is it ideal that participants are “nothing more than their words and the name they choose”?

          Why is an improvement to remove graphical avatars from a hypertext website? If it is, why is appropriate for them to choose a name, when they can’t control their ability to create or choose a pleasing username?

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            Perhaps we should start using random bitstrings for usernames, like in that parody of HN/LessWrong Stephenson described in Cryptonomicon.

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            The avatars provide a nice way for people with problems parsing text (i.e dyslexics) to distinguish between participants. As others noted, they’re small enough you couldn’t really judge what they are unless you squinted or clicked through.

            If custom user avatars are really a problem, perhaps we could enforce the abstract default Gravatars.

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              I agree with the fact that avatars help the eyes to distinguish between users mostly just because of the colour. An alternative method for if avatars are disabled might be to bold and colour the usernames using some deterministic algorithm.

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              Could be worse. Some of us grew up on Internet forums where peoples’ avatars spanned several hundreds of pixels each axis, with good odds of them being animated in seizure-inducing ways.

              For the rest of us, that little splash of color helps eyeball the author of a post.

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                Counter-proposal: Please allow us to link to an external image or something. I don’t want to have to sign up for an external service (Gravatar) just to have a profile picture on a different site. I still can’t even figure out how the hell to use Gravatar in the first place, their website is so counter-intuitive.

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                  Issue 547 explains why we don’t allow links (privacy) and why we use an external service (security).

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                    As much as it bothers me, it makes sense and I understand why you guys chose your method of handling avatars.

                    Personally though, it’s just not for me. I hope someday you guys change it, at least so that an external account isn’t needed.

                    Because I still can’t figure out how to make a Gravatar account in the first place, much less actually use it. Something about making a WordPress account and connecting that to Gravatar, but then the only options I had for making a WordPress account was through Apple or Google but that doesn’t make any sense.

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                      Their site has gotten significantly more complicated since we integrated them and they realized that Gravatar might drive signups to their commercial products. And to reiterate the issue: totally open to not using them at all, it’s a matter of when someone puts in the work to replace them.

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                  I like avatars in the comments, but not on the home page.

                  In the comments, they distinguish each writer, and they are not as tightly packed together.

                  On the home page, they just look busy and there are so many of them that I don’t really differentiate them or use the information in any way.

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                    I am strongly opposed to this. I find avatars helpful in identifying posters.

                    Lack of avatars is one reason the orange site seems like a hive mind — you have to put a lot of work into tracking poster identity, particularly in a tree of comments. Look at the structure of this thread, for example. Violet, yellow, violet, yellow. The post-counterpost structure is easy to see and the color helps differentiate two users who have names that start with P.

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                      Tbh I’m in favor of this.

                      – Sent from my Android device with K-9 Mail. Please excuse my brevity.

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                        An additional reason not mentioned elsewhere is that I like being able to give a “human face” to myself in the form of an avatar. I understand not everyone wants to do that for various reasons – which is completely fine – but personally I’d like to keep having the option to do so.

                        I’m not sure if people being “judged on things they can’t control, e.g. appearance or ability to create or choose a pleasing avatar” is really a problem we have. Do you have examples where you think this may be an issue?

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                          The avatars are so small that they’re barely noticeable. Ideally, our community members’ opinions wouldn’t be swayed by the avatars of others and they would focus on the content/topic at hand.

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                            I like the ideal that in a text-based internet communications platform like Lobsters people shouldn’t be judged based on demographic details they can’t control. But I don’t think that “ability to choose a pleasing avatar” is in that class. What avatar you pick, if any, is part of the same expressive ability demonstrated by your choice of username and your contentful writing. I’ve never bothered to pick an avatar here, and I don’t think that affects me much one way or the other. And while I don’t personally care very much about avatars, a lot of people seem to get value out of them, so I’d vote to keep them.

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                              Avatars are an identity compromise risk.

                              Some of us enjoy our pseudonimity, but these avatar things come from the email address.

                              If you have a gravatar, your identity will be compromised with your avatar displayed; If you don’t, your identity will be compromised by a generated avatar, unique to your email address.

                              There’s no warning about this behaviour. Why even bother with pseudonyms? Just display everybody’s email outright. Identity-wise, they’re equivalent.