Gravatar: The Global Online Icon/Photo
Not too long ago, a client at work was wondering what kind of options they could have for showing buddy icons in their blog comments. I looked around, but didn't really like any of the default plug-ins. Well, one struck my interest a bit, but the client wasn't looking for a third-party solution. What I found was Gravatar, a website that wants to host a visual identifier for you to be used anywhere online. It's a simple concept, but I was of course worried with setting up and managing another service, another plugin for my software, etc. Of course, the second question is whether it will ever be used widely enough to become a standard? At the time, I had never heard of it, but that didn't necessarily mean it was unsuccessful.
Gravatar recently showed up on my radar a couple days ago when looking at my WordPres blog. The feeds from WordPress were mentioning it a number of times, and after a quick look it looks like the folks behind WordPress (a company called Automattic) have acquired Gravatar. They were also outlining how they were planning on integrating it with the WordPress.com services and its built-in user avatar system.
Even more interesting was how WordPress and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg demoed the simplicity and brilliance of the Gravatar service on his blog. He put the Gravatar icons in his blog's comments with just four simple lines of PHP! WordPress already stores the e-mail address of the commenter in the system, and your Gravatar account is tied to your e-mail. WordPress just sends a non-reversible MD5 string to Gravatar requesting the avatar associated with that e-mail address. There's no e-mail addresses transferred over the Internet, but you still have an icon/photo based on your e-mail address that can be easily used by any blog. Pretty neat!
Another interesting thing about Automattic is that it is one of a handful of recent, open-source friendly companies that has no real headquarters. Companies like Mozilla, Lullabot, and others like Automattic are just a group of developers that have no offices but instead do development from their homes and only meet a couple times per year, if ever. In today's world of instant Internet communication, this is an interesting and potentially cheap way to run a company, I suppose.