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January 2nd, 2009:

Mission of Gravatar

One thing I didn’t quite figure out with WordPress before New Year’s Day was how to upload a userpic for myself. It’s not a critical issue, and I kept bumping it to the back of the “look into this” list–until this morning, when I realized that a commenter had a userpic. This is not LiveJournal, where thousands of people have their accounts all on one server and userpics are stored centrally. This is my own private instance of WordPress, installed on my own hosting service, with no blogs on it but mine. So wherethehell did that userpic come from? Shortly thereafter, Julian Bucknall showed up in a comment, with his own userpic. At this point, I quit gnashing my teeth at Ubuntu for being atavistic (why isn’t there a dialog in the admin menu tree somewhere for setting a search path? Huh? Huh? Why?) and did some digging.

Of course, something interesting is going on here. There’s a Web service called Gravatar, which maintains small images (either photos or drawn art) intended to be used as personal avatars on blog comments and discussion forums. Each image is keyed by an MD5 hash of the image owner’s email address. Blog or forum software (anything, actually) simply makes a request to with the hash, and it gets back an 80X80 image.

This works great–when it works, which is most but not all of the time.

I’m still scratching my head here. I can see my gravatar image on Contra from every browser in the house except the instance of Firefox 2 here on my main machine. IE6 on this box shows it. FF2 and all IEs V6 and after show it. But FF2 on this box won’t–except in the “Recent Comments” pane of the dashboard. Then, sure. Gotta make it complicated.

This does not compute. It’s the same damned version of FF I have running everywhere in the house. ( I’m not big on plug-ins, and there’s nothing peculiar about this install of XP. I do not see why viewing WordPress on this instance of FireFox would be any different from viewing WordPress with any other instance of Firefox–and it does see other people’s gravatars over their comments. Just not mine.

Still stumped, and I’m posting this to see if any of you do not see my picture in the avatar block of any of my comments here on WordPress. Suggestions, of course, are welcome. I won’t croak if I can’t see my own gravatar as long as everybody else can, but things like this give cloud computing a bad name.

One final note, which boggles this old mind: Gravatar has a rating system. You can have G, PG, R, and X-rated gravatars. You heard me: X-rated gravatars. In an 80-pixel by 80-pixel block. Damn. I can’t have a GUI dialog to set the Linux search path, and you can have an X-rated gravatar. Somebody’s getting ripped here. Deciding who I leave as an exercise for the reader.