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I use my photo as a profile picture. I see that not everybody does that. Even people in the top30 use a default graphic or something other than their real face:

Will I be taken more seriously with a profile picture of myself or should I change it into a graphic or maybe something else?

Can we measure (maybe with some facial recognition software) how well users with a "face" profile picture do better (or worse) than people with a default graphic?

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Isn't this basically personal choice? You're likely to get more profile views if you have a picture, rather than a graphic, particularly if it seems interesting and can't quite be made out in the thumbnail view... – forsvarir Jul 5 '12 at 9:29
Funny to see that the answers reflect their avatar. – Jorden van Foreest Jul 5 '12 at 9:41
Photos are better. I used a photo of Megan Fox for a while and I got tons of useful answers. – toscho Jul 5 '12 at 10:44
I don't care much for the avatar. I do have a tendency to notice the name though, and I'm afraid I take user names like user31415926 less seriously. – Mr Lister Jul 5 '12 at 10:48
up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is a highly subjective thing, so I can speak only for myself, but I notice I tend to take people more seriously if they post their real name and a photo. This has consequences on my behaviour, at least when they ask questions:

  • I will be more reluctant to downvote

  • I will show more patience with imperfect questions

  • I will have an increased willingness to add helpful comments, stick around, and provide additional guidance on how to improve the question.

I guess it is out of the feeling that someone showing a photo of themselves (well, supposedly) is willing to invest something in the community, instead of just drive by and get a quick answer for something.

With prolific answerers, I think it doesn't matter that much - the answers speak for themselves. I don't think a user with good contributions will be taken any less seriously just because their avatar is a lizard. Or even the default gravatar.

Can we measure (maybe with some facial recognition software) how well users with a "face" profile picture do better (or worse) than people with a default graphic?

Maybe, but any results you may get would most likely be spurious... even if the data show a connection between profile photos and some measure of success, you can always argue that those who post a photo of themselves are likely to be more invested users.

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I don't think that the existence of a picture should affect the behaviour in the sense that SO is not about helping that user in particular but helping users in general. Either the question / answer is good or it is not. – assylias Jul 5 '12 at 9:36
if they post their real name and a photo - but how can you tell if they are real? – Henk Holterman Jul 5 '12 at 9:58
@assylias I know what you mean, but I disagree. When you see someone posting an imperfect question, you may or may not go beyond the call of duty (which is just downvoting), and try and help them improve it. If someone bothers to post a photo, in my experience it's more likely that the OP will actually react, your attempts aren't wasted as they are in the case of a drive-by user... and note that I didn't say more likely to upvote, but more reluctant to downvote. That's a huge difference. – Pëkka Jul 5 '12 at 10:01
@Henk I can't. It's obviously an imperfect mechanism that can be easily fooled. – Pëkka Jul 5 '12 at 10:01
It's imperfect, true, but I think it gives a little bit more 'weight' when I see what appears to be a real name and photo, too. Of course, that's just the first impression. What they do thereafter carries more weight over time. (disclosure: my name/photo are me. Or my Evil Twin. depends on what day it is... ) – Andrew Barber Jul 5 '12 at 11:10

To give you a third opinion - It doesn't matter much.

You will soon learn to recognize the most active posters, even if they change their names regularly (like mr Handbags), or use a default avatar.

Some of us didn't even actively chose a picture. In my case, I log in using an OpenID service, and it just happened to contain a photo since long before. And now it shows up here!

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But it's such a perty picture! Which I mean in the manliest way possible. – Andrew Barber Jul 5 '12 at 11:11

Your profile is fair game-- you can put anything in your picture and about text, save pornography and personal attacks.

Most of us don't even care about the avatar (On sites other than this one, I use the default pic)... To me, the avatar provides a way to quickly recognize a user without having to go through the botherful process of actually reading the username.

I doubt anyone will take you more/less seriously if you use any type of avatar. There's no big deal in keeping the avatar as the default quilt (you're not considered a noob if you do so--many experienced users choose to keep the quilt gravatar). No big deal in a pic, either. Both the pic and the quilt make one easily identifiable and distinguishable (though on high-activity sites like SO, similar quilts can get confusing)

Edit:On seeing Pekka's answer (Pekka=Discount Gucci Handbags), I do agree that a custom pic on a question (for a low-rep) makes me think that the user is more interested in the community than a low rep user with a quilt. But I generally don't let that affect my votes or the way I answer.

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Regarding the avatar: I found that I liked the SO avatar so much that I put it as my default Gravatar ;-) – Joachim Sauer Jul 5 '12 at 10:42
@Joachim: You got a nice one. the gravatar proposed to me had an ugly gray color... – Jorden van Foreest Jul 5 '12 at 10:45
@JordenvanForeest: It's generated from an email hash. If you use gmail, you can put the plus operator (eg is the same as as your default email and get a better gravatar. The plus doesn't change your email, though you'll have to remember to enter the email with the plus string if you ever need to use password recovery. Of course, a pic is fine as well :) – Manishearth Jul 5 '12 at 10:48
@JoachimSauer: I have a gravatar account, but I've not changed mine (like I said, your identity gets tied to it). The maximum change I've made is to add some waffles to my meta account (as a thank you to waffles, the dev, who left the company) – Manishearth Jul 5 '12 at 10:49

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