Use your own avatars with a Gravatar alternative – Avatarly

The Idea

It’s hard to find a forum or any other social site that wouldn’t let you to set up an avatar to establish your own, unique, identity. Sure, aside from making people’s profiles unique, it also has a use value. For example, in a Kanbanery board with lots of users it would be hard to distinguish them from each other. No doubt, not having avatars in place would lead to a mess which, to be sure, is not productivity’s friend. To let users add their avatars to Kanbanery, we integrated Gravatar. It’s a service that lets you create an account using your email address and set an image that will be used as an avatar on any site that has Gravatar integration in place. Cool, isn’t it? Ummm, not really.

The Problem

An example of an avatar generated by AvatarlyPractice shows that most of the users (ok, at least Kanbanery users) have never heard of Gravatar or, simply, don’t want to use any additional services like that. It leads to a situation in which customers get confused – where’s the ‘upload avatar’ button? At some point we realized that there are tons of Kanbanery boards with many users who don’t have their avatars set up, all using the default one and not liking the service because it had ‘no possibility to set up an avatar’. Of course, Gravatar lets you to set up your own default avatar, but it’s not the solution – they still would be the same. Summing this up, i still think that Gravatar is a cool idea, but it lacks popularity (maybe now, when it belongs to WordPress that will change at some point?) and that, in my opinion, makes it nearly useless for most of the users. So, what to do if you, for any reason, don’t want to let users upload their own avatars?

The Solution… maybe?

Screenshot of how Avatarly works in Kanbanery
Here’s how it looks in Kanbanery.

Use Avatarly! What’s that? When trying to solve the problem for Kanbanery, for a long time I hadn’t realized that I used to have it in front of my face for the whole time. If you’re using Gmail, you’re probably familiar with simple avatars containing a colored background and your initials only. I was pretty sure that somewhere there must be a gem letting me create avatars like that in any Rails application. Ok, now it’s there, but it wasn’t there when I was looking for it. I had to create it. I called it Avatarly – you can find it on RubyGems and the source code is available in GitHub. Basically it doesn’t do anything aside from taking any string provided by user and making a Gmail like avatar out of it, returning a image that you can save or use ‘on the fly’. As simple as that, but you’re not limited to defaults. You can set your own background color, font and its color and size. As for the text it can be any string, including email addresses.

Isn’t that cool? Notice that it doesn’t force you to give up on using any other avatar ‘providers’ (like Gravatar, doh) if you want. There a simple demo on Heroku, so you can give it a try.

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