Most social bookmarking, social media and social networking sites allow you to include a thumbnail image (or avatar) to go with your profile. For example, when you submit a story on digg, your image appears with it.
The best example is MyBlogLog. It grew to huge success, in part because it showed people’s faces. For the first time you could see who was visiting your blog.
Most people take a thumbnail image of their face and use that as their avatar. You can see mine to the right.
But as Cheezhead points out, those images are essentially small banner advertisements for you. He provides an example on his site, where The Employment Guide uses a small logo instead of a face. It’s a great example of trying to differentiate oneself from the crowd.
In the past, MyBlogLog allowed animated avatars, but a few months ago those were removed. They became too distracting and annoying.
But lots of people are getting creative with their avatars. And we’re seeing more people talk about standing out with unique ones.
Tamar Weinberg recently wrote: 11 Tips to Enhance Your Digg User Experience (and Hopefully Bring You Front Page Fame).
Tip #1: Distinguish Yourself by Choosing an Avatar.
So how important are avatars on social media, networking and bookmarking sites?
Apparently important enough that people steal them.
One of digg’s power users is Muhammad Saleem. He’s all over the blogosphere, with his own blog, writing at Pronet Advertising, and guest writing at Copyblogger.
Take a look at Muhammad’s avatar:
Now take a look at DiggChainey’s avatar:
They’re nearly identical.
This makes me laugh and shake my head at the same time. According to Muhammad this has happened to him before, and he changed his avatar to the one he’s using now. I wonder if he’ll be forced to change again…
We all build up our personal brands through the use of social media, networking and bookmarking sites. Those brands are tied to our names, but also to our images. While it’s clear that people are thinking more seriously about their avatars and using them to promote more than just their own face (which can be a good thing), stealing an avatar is in horrible taste. It’s an attempt to leech from someone else’s personal brand. It diminishes the value and openness of the social media community. And it’s a colossal waste of time.