A few months ago my co-founder Tom Chi created an avatar for me as part of a project we are working on. I posted it to Facebook and Twitter and got more questions about this avatar than any other profile picture I’ve ever posted. After a long hiatus avatars got my full attention.
Over the past few months as I poked around Twitter and other social networks I started to collect avatars. Below are just a few of the hundreds of avatars I collected. You’ll notice folks like Hunter Walk, Fred Wilson, and Jason Goldman.
Besides growing to adore this form of expression I noticed a few things about these avatars:
Goodbye cheesy Yahoo avatars
Thankfully, the style of these avatars has progressed from the cheesy Yahoo avatars circa 2004. The art form has matured. As you can see there is a broad range of styles — from the alternative hipster to the more serious look.
Avatars speak to your personality
The style, colors, and head position you choose for your avatar speaks to your personality in a way that a profile picture rarely captures. I usually struggle to find a picture of myself that I both like and captures my personality. With avatars you have the control to fashion one that either goes for a more serious Wall Street Journal portrait look, or a more mysterious look, or a fun and quirky look. You have a canvas to capture different parts of your personality.
Avatars are for the social media rich class
The social media rich class are far more likely to invest in avatars than the social media middle class (based on my anecdotal data). I wish there was a place where you could create a unique high quality avatar (not the silly Yahoo kind) for free. People like tinkering and we don’t give people simple tools to create and tinker anymore. Remember, tens of millions of people used to tinker with HTML and CSS on their MySpace profiles. Sadly most of that world is gone.
They are safe conversation starters
Avatars are safe conversation starters. Asking a question or commenting on somebody’s profile picture is a risky affair - tons of landmines. An avatar looks like you, but it’s not you, so its safer territory to strike up a conversation.
How will mobile change our relationship with avatars?
The nature of our interaction with our mobile devices is distinctly different than our PC. There plenty of reasons for this but at the top of that list is direct manipulation of content. If we gave people easy mobile tools to manipulate / tinker with their avatars we would see some entertaining forms of self expression.