We have received a few complaints recently from folks who signed up on one of the sites to ask a question or post an answer and were surprised that their avatar was automatically pulled from Gravatar. In some cases it was because they forgot they even had a Gravatar account. In others it became a privacy issue - posting anonymously becomes more difficult if their Gravatar is a photo of themselves.

Now, we could just tell people to use a different email, but that seems like a poor experience all around considering that we recently rolled out an alternative to Gravatar.

So I suggest we change the default for new users to be a generic (either static or randomly generated) avatar and leave it up to them to switch to Gravatar if they're into that sort of thing.

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    Arg, please auto-generated, it's already hard to pick out user23537 with the blue octagons instead of user23538 with the blue septagons
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:30
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    Highly related? Add a “default image” option to the new avatar selection Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:30
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    Do these people complaining really not realize that their picture is being used or are incapable of changing it? Doesn't the system show them the icon before they start writing their first post and also show it as soon as they "post" their first words?
    – bmike
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:40
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    While I do understand the concern, I'm confused why people are signing up for Gravatar and then ending up being upset that Gravatar is doing what Gravatar is meant to do. From that perspective, I'd be a little more inclined to provide a generic opt-out option instead of making Gravatar opt-in.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:40
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    @TimStone personally I'd prefer the opt-out, since this'll probably result in far far lower gravatar usage...which sorta defeats the purpose. And if someone actually set their gravatar, they should know enough to be able to change it (either via gravatar or opting out of gravatar)
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:44
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    Isn't the whole point of having a Gravatar to have your picture universally used where Gravatar is supported? Perhaps the problem is merely one of prior disclosure. "Note: We use Gravatar. If you don't want your Gravatar picture used here, upload a custom one."
    – user102937
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:02
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    @TimStone Note, we're thinking like programmers here. I'm almost positive that the experience that Anna is describing is for people signing up for non-programming Stack Exchange sites that don't even know what Gravatar is, but signed up for it elsewhere because they wanted to participate without completely knowing what it entails. That said, I think that asking a new user to opt-in is the more respectful decision, as it shows a concern for privacy (and it is a privacy issue) which I think is especially important given the size of the Stack Exchange network.
    – casperOne
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:08
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    May I make a suggestion for how you generate these default pictures? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37328/… Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:33
  • @casperOne If they aren't happy with how that works though, they're much better off from a privacy perspective by fixing that on the Gravatar side of things. I can understand how they may have not fully understood what they were getting themselves into, but that's not a good thing.
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:51
  • @TimStone It's not a good thing, and I agree that consumer education is important, but still, sloughing it off to Gravatar doesn't reduce the fact that the negativity will be directed at Stack Exchange; they could have done something, and they chose not to.
    – casperOne
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:54
  • @TimStone Just because I use a certain email address and have a gravatar associated with it that I use elsewhere doesn't mean I want to either create a new address or modify my gravatar just to remain anonymous here, for example. I've had to do the gravatar update dance and it's annoying. This probably isn't dire, but I think we can definitely make the experience better especially for the less technically inclined.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:02
  • Doesn't SE also get pictures from Facebook directly, if the user logs in via FB? Or am I remembering that completely wrong? Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:04
  • @TimStone Far as opt-in vs opt-out goes... opt-out technically is what we have no already. You "opt out" of Gravatar by uploading a different image. :)
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:04
  • Right, which is why I said I don't have any problem with a default "disable" option in the "Change Picture" menu (I don't consider uploading your own image user friendly for that case).
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:05
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    Note that the privacy issue does not depend on having a gravatar account. The url of the gravatar leaks a lot of information(often enough to recover the email address) by itself. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


As a test, I just signed up for a 2nd Stackoverflow account with a Facebook account. Upon authorizing SE to connect, I was immediately redirected to the stackoverflow.com without any further ado.

This could be the problem.

Now, granted, many/most people just want to get their learn on, and don't want to be greeted with lots of introductory stuff. But I think a quick and small page/panel with a "Welcome! This is how you will appear to other users" (with gravatar, username, etc.,) wouldn't go amiss.

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    I'd recommend this only if it's part of making a new account without posting. Just show them their post if they're posting, it's got their user card right there anyway, and that way it doesn't get in their way of posting (every added step loses more users)
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:23
  • @BenBrocka Hm, agreed. But perhaps when creating a new account when posting, there could be a FHC around the usercard ;) Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:34
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    Said welcome page may also go a long way towards fixing the user7654321 problem.
    – Charles
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 21:02

I don't like the idea of using a static image for all new users, it makes users harder to identify uniquely. I propose that the system use the basic identicon from Gravatar by appending something like +newuser to the end of their email address before hashing. A user can then choose to use their actual Gravatar on the site by changing their profile picture and selecting that they wish to use Gravatar for their profile image, at which point the system will no longer append the +newuser to their email.

As far as Facebook photos, I don't know exactly how that system works, but you could always just use their IP through a Gravatar image until they choose to use their Facebook photo.

  • You don't even need +newuser - you can ask Gravatar for the identicon directly.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 22:13
  • @Shog9: I thought about that, but it still uses their actual email hash, and a user could easily remove the forcible option from the URL to identify them (maybe even a user-script that automatically removes that from all Gravatar URLs they encounter). Wasn't sure if that would be enough to solve the privacy issue Anna is identifying.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 22:14
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    If you're that paranoid, don't enter your email in the first place. Cancel your Gravatar account. Buy a cabin in Montana.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 22:17
  • @Shog9: Well, either way, it still requires some sort of option to determine if it needs to be forced and adding something in. If you already need the option to determine whether to force the identicon, it makes sense to just use that option to quick-change the email and ensure total privacy.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 23:19
  • Eh... That's a hack. But yeah, some sort of salt would probably allay most privacy concerns.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 23:31
  • I like your idea with the hash, but how about an option during the Gravar account registration that the user will chose whether to display at a 3rd party website or ask for a confirmation? But even then there's no guarantee that the same would not happen! They read the terms and privacy already and AGREED, so it's not gravatar's circus!
    – GTodorov
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 5:26

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