Managing Gravatars in WordPress Is a Jarring User Experience

Gravatar, acquired in 2007, is a service owned and operated by Automattic that allows you to assign profile images to email addresses. These images are used automatically when registering an account on sites or services that support Gravatar. Support for Gravatar was added in WordPress 2.5 “Brecker”.

The other day, I registered an account on a new gaming site that uses WordPress. While configuring my user profile, I decided to change my Gravatar to a different image. Here’s what the user interface to change my Gravatar looks like in WordPress.

ChangeGravatarUI
User Interface to Change a Gravatar in WordPress

The only option available is to click the link which loads Gravatar.com in the same browser window as the WordPress backend. As a veteran user of WordPress, I found this to be a jarring experience as I tried to configure an image and find my way back to the WordPress backend.

Six years ago, a user by the name of computerwiz908 created a Trac ticket suggesting the ability to upload a custom avatar image in addition to Gravatar. This suggestion was eventually shot down as adding support for local avatars was considered plugin territory. However, amidst the discussion, Scribu raised the following issue.

Maybe a better course of action would be to lobby the Gravatar developers (i.e. Automattic?) to release some sort of API which opens an iframe/lightbox/whatever for users to create/change their image, instead of having to go to Gravatar.com to do it, which is quite a confusing workflow.

Beau Lebens, an employee at Automattic who worked on Gravatar during this time period, responded to the ticket explaining that WordPress.com uses something similar to a thickbox iframe. Although his response is four years old, I logged into my WordPress.com account to compare how easy it is to configure my Gravatar.

The user experience on WordPress.com is worse because the user profile page doesn’t have any options, links, or pointers that inform users what to do in order to change their profile image. Only by hovering and clicking around the page did I discover that clicking my avatar image on the left takes me to Gravatar.com.

WordPress.com Update Gravatar Profile Image Interface
WordPress.com User Profile Interface

Here’s what the interface looks like for configuring Gravatars when redirected from WordPress.com.

WordPress.com Configure Gravatar User Interface
WordPress.com Configure Gravatar User Interface

Similar to self-hosted WordPress, it loads Gravatar.com and redirects me away from the backend of my WordPress.com site without providing an easy way to go back to where I started.

Gravatar is a convenient service that shines when registering accounts with the same email address on sites and services that support it. However, adding, assigning, and managing Gravatars from within WordPress is a terrible user experience that’s ripe for improvement. The work flow is disjointed and has left me scratching my head on more than one occasion.

Perhaps some sort of lightbox or a modal could be added that simplifies the process without redirecting users to Gravatar.com. If you have any ideas on how managing Gravatars from within WordPress can be improved, please share them with us in the comments. Also, if you’re a WordPress consultant, how do you explain to and navigate clients through the process of creating and managing Gravatars?

Would you like to write for WP Tavern? We are always accepting guest posts from the community and are looking for new contributors. Get in touch with us and let's discuss your ideas.

22 Comments


  1. Perhaps some sort of lightbox or a modal could be added that simplifies the process without redirecting users to Gravatar.com.

    I like that idea. That would make the flow easier for everyone. I created a GitHub issue here to keep track of your feedback.

    If anyone has other ideas to improve that process, do not hesitate to chime in here, on in the comments of that GitHub issue!

    The only option available is to click the link which loads Gravatar.com in the same browser window as the WordPress backend. As a veteran user of WordPress, I found this to be a jarring experience as I tried to configure an image and find my way back to the WordPress backend.

    I’ll take note about this suggestion as well. I think it’s something that could be addressed in Jetpack, for example, since the plugin already bundles other Gravatar features. I created another GitHub issue here to keep track of your suggestion, and start a discussion.

    Report


    1. Upon giving this some more thought and at the risk of derailing the current conversation even though it’s related, I think another solution to this problem is reverting WordPress so that local avatars are supported by core while Gravatar support becomes plugin territory. I’m a bit uncomfortable that between Jetpack and Gravatar, the vast majority of users especially new ones will likely need to register an account with WordPress.com. It’s even more of an issue with Gravatar since it’s built into core.

      I think that the less WordPress the open source software project has to rely on WordPress.com, the better off its users will be. Going back to local avatar storage and display removes at least one of the almost forceful connections to WordPress.com.

      Report


      1. That’s indeed a different discussion, but something worth discussing i think. I won’t be able to help by creating tickets though :)

        I like the centralized aspect of Gravatars, especially as a commenter on blogs like this one. I’m not sure local avatars would be ideal on sites where readers can’t, or don’t have to register to leave a comment. That said, giving both options could help site owners who want a choice.

        I’ll check the discussion on that Trac ticket to learn more about this!

        Report


  2. Gravatar holds their position in the sense of being part of blogging community- but that logic should not enforced to the ‘site owner’ who powers their sites with WordPress. Gravatar should come as secondary options, just like the few other options currently exists in admin panel.

    The notion to add site favicon, and custom logo in the WordPress core also applies to the “Avatar” for most site owners. Adding a profile picture just for the site comments should be part of WordPress- telling it a plugin-territory no longer make sense today.

    Report


    1. There are other options, too. Namely Pavatar and Favatar, the latter one being an ages old invention (see eg. Favatars (and Favatar WordPress Plugin), written in 2004 (!)).

      If WP would support those natively, eg. Favicon as a “enable by choice in the settings” or auto-enabled fallback .. all would be well ;)

      cu, w0lf.

      Report


  3. Hey Jeff, these are good points and especially the process of leaving your site and having to sign up or add a new gravatar is not seamless, and can be confusing for users. In fact, I have often wondered if that is the reason a lot of users don’t have gravatars. Of course, they may just not want their face on the web :)

    When I taught a lot of workshops to beginners, I basically explained the benefit of a gravatar, and then directed them to gravatar.com for the exact reasons you pointed out. But I also had to explain of the connect to WordPress and how you must have a WordPress.com account, which sometimes threw a wrench in things. But most had not problem with that and understood.

    Unfortunately I never discovered the magic bullet within WordPress. And I never spent the time to think through a better approach. Will love to hear what others have to say :)

    Report


  4. Thank you Jeff. You’ve put into words one of the major frustrations with the weird convolution between WP and Automattic properties. Graveyard should be manageable from withing a user profile. The end.

    Report


  5. Gravatar is a great idea. Unfortunately, it’s a mess. The overall experience expects the user to tollerate too much nonsense. Yet another crack in the WP armour that’s begging to be done better.

    Report


    1. I found this post by googling “gravatar is a mess”! I’ve given up and hidden my profile, as Gravatar fails to change or delete information from the edit interface – which loads without any CSS. It’s an utterly hideous experience.

      The concept’s great. Execution ghastly. Whoever’s supposed to be running this should be ashamed.

      Report


  6. gravatar is a useless service which has no place in core. It identifies email addresses and not humans since there is no verification attempt that the human actually used the email address to comment, therefor it is not a true personal avatar (you are not in control of its usage).

    Then there is the “global” problem with it. I can’t use the same email address on star wars site and harry potter site if I want a customized avatar for each. just stupid.

    It is an wordpress.com internal service and as such probably does what it expected to do there, but for hosted wordpress its usage is just yet another example of how little love comments get from core developers. In 4.6 we at last get rid of google tracking us on our site via fonts. maybe one day we will be able to get rid of automattic as well (don’t hold your breath)

    Report


    1. Also it exposes your email address and make it easier to track you. You pay for the service with your privacy.

      Report


  7. How about, as a quick and dirty solution, the links are made to open the Gravatar site in a new tab/window? That way you at least keep the WordPress dashboard loaded and easier to return to.

    Report


  8. It’s a horrible experience, made worse by the fact that so many people are confused about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. People will have a WordPress.org site, go to Gravatar.com, which asks you to login with WordPress.com credentials, and then they can’t figure out why their WordPress.org login details don’t work.

    1) Being taken to a third party site sucks.
    2) Being taken to a third party site that asks for WordPress.com login details is confusing to people who don’t know the difference between the two (which is a ton of people).

    Report


  9. Maybe they just wanted gravatar images load from an external site to improve loadtimes of a WP site. Don’t know…but gravatars are good.
    I would let site owners choose if they want local profile pictures or gravatars, in later case i would give users the choice from which avatar provider they would like to collect the picture based on the email they enter.

    Report


  10. I’ve always wondered why the ability to add a gravatar from the WordPress profile editor was never included. Using an API to connect wouldn’t be difficult and would make it so much easier to explain to people.

    Report


  11. I think another solution to this problem is reverting WordPress so that local avatars are supported by core while Gravatar support becomes plugin territory.

    I would let site owners choose if they want local profile pictures or gravatars

    I’ve always wondered why the ability to add a gravatar from the WordPress profile editor was never included.

    Just use 10up’s Simple Local Avatars and be done with it. It gives you the ability to use a local default avatar and an option to fallback to Gravatar for those who have Gravatar accounts setup.

    https://wordpress.org/plugins/simple-local-avatars/
    https://10up.com/plugins/simple-local-avatars-wordpress/

    Report


  12. Can we already easily update our Gravatar in the WordPress Android app? So why is this so complicated on a WordPress site?

    Report


  13. My attempts to encourage users posting to one of my websites to use Gravatar just added one more confusing piece of the puzzle to those encountering the WP backend for the first time. Most didn’t bother.

    Honestly being able to upload an image for your avatar on a particular site seems so basic outside of the WP world that it really strikes me as the kind of thing that should be in core.

    And Gravatar seems like a perfect fit for Jetpack.

    Report


  14. Yeah make it easier to use Gravatar so Automattic and others can track you properly (but since gravatar is default they can do it anyway. w00t w00t).

    Report


  15. Also, dont forget to run your site through Gtmetrix or Google page test. They will throw lots of warnings surrounding Gravatars.
    I normally prefer to switch them off.

    Report

Comments are closed.