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