It appears to me that roughly half of all profile images are either the auto-generated monochrome avatars, or similar non-person graphics, or at best, photos of something clearly not an adult human face.

Does this matter? Is there any reason or incentive to encourage users to place an actual, identifiable picture of their own face in their profiles? I ask because there is also a mix of reasonable-seeming human names and made-up word combinations or even just meaningless-appearing collections of letters and numbers. (Not considering the user12345 auto-generated names)

As something that passes for a community, should we nudge people towards at least having a photo, if not their legal name? Why do we allow anonymity when many large sites are moving to stop it?

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    Is it irony that your current avatar is the machine-generated one? – ale Dec 2 '16 at 19:43
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    Why do you need to know my legal name or what I look like? How does it improve the quality of Q+A? – Clive Dec 2 '16 at 19:44
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    As a Faceless American, I am offended by this question. – user1228 Dec 2 '16 at 19:46
  • @Aʟᴇ no one ever nudged me toward posting an actual photo. I just wondered why. "Had this been an actual community, you would have been told where to go and what to do..." – user291305 Dec 2 '16 at 19:52
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    Actually, this is what I look like. You-all are just "ugly bags of mostly water." – user291305 Dec 2 '16 at 19:56
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    encouragement rather goes in the opposite direction of scaling by breaking the social network: "the first and most crucial step toward allowing a site of this size to function is to discourage the sorts of interpersonal connections that would tie it down..." – gnat Dec 2 '16 at 22:25
  • @gnat I think we took that a bit too far in the US, generally. But, it is still functioning, so maybe it was the right thing to do. I have read that the number 1 problem in the world today is depression, caused mainly by social isolation. Maybe we could come up with some answers to that. – user291305 Dec 5 '16 at 15:24

This isn't Facebook, LinkedIn, or some other social networking site (though even they don't require an image be of you). There's no reason that there should be any push for user images to be anything other than what the user wishes that image to be.

If I want a plush hippo or my dog or a gravatar, that's perfectly fine and that's my choice and it's OK!

And if we were to require this, we have no way of knowing that the image is actually of them, so it's not any better to force users to have a person as their image when that person may be a stock photo they pulled off the web somewhere.

What's important is judging the content they produce. I'd go so far as to say that this would be a bad idea because judging user content based on assumptions made because of how they look would be detrimental to the site. In the end, what a user looks like has no bearing on this site. For all we know a user might be (as Kendra says) "birds with blue feet or monkeys wearing glasses and hats and smoking pipes" and we shouldn't judge them for that.

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    Besides, how do we know for sure that some of our users aren't, say, birds with blue feet or monkeys wearing glasses and hats and smoking pipes? (Just random examples off the top of my head, no one in mind for those at all.) – Kendra Dec 2 '16 at 19:43
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    @Kendra would a million monkeys sitting at typewriters come up with the World Wide Web? I think we have the answer. – user291305 Dec 2 '16 at 19:54
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    So we are judging people based on the character of their content, not the color of their avatar. – user291305 Dec 2 '16 at 20:15
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    We're not judging people, we judge the content only (and yes, of course, you should too). Your comments are very hard to infer meaning from. You consider judging content to be a bad thing? Good thing? Something else? – Clive Dec 2 '16 at 20:21
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    @Clive actually, this Answer used the word "judging". But, because the author of all content on this network (it is not a community, I am told) is made known, and we re-encounter authors, I think that some "judging" is inevitable. Mainly, I was just looking for an excuse to write a paraphrase of the statement by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He did say something about judging people. I guess that was too 20th-century, because nobody upvoted the comment. – user291305 Dec 5 '16 at 14:58
  • Once again, we're judging the content, not the person. I can't say it any different way, if you don't get it/accept it at this point, I don't think you will. No one upvoted the comment because no one cares what MLK thinks about this (even insofar as you can tenuously relate anything he once said to this situation); unless he's a member of the site and clued-in on the rules/culture, it's quite obviously irrelevant. – Clive Dec 5 '16 at 16:50
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    @Clive everyone seems quite adamant that profile pics do not matter and should not. So, why do we keep them? What was the intention of adding them in the first place? – user291305 Dec 8 '16 at 19:36
  • Its interesting that you avoid every question asked of you, or comment addressed to you, instead shifting into a different subject each time. I can't converse like that, it makes no sense to me. If you want to respond to the point I've made several times and you've ignored several times, I'll reply, otherwise I'm officially bored of this – Clive Dec 8 '16 at 19:59
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    @Clive Wow, I was not trying to be evasive. I just said that it is logically inconsistent to say that profile pics are good, yet they can be of anything. It is like saying that money is really important, but everyone can just create their own. Anyway, your question, I think was: "Why do you need to know my legal name or what I look like? How does it improve the quality of Q+A?" Answer: I do not. So, a photo and name should either be correct, or missing. Incorrect info is not info, it is falsehood. Falsehood does not contribute anything. If not necessary, it should not be displayed. Done. – user291305 Dec 15 '16 at 14:59

Stack Exchange has always encouraged people to judge posts on content, not on who's making the post. Which makes a lot of sense, since what is delivered here is content, not discussions. Forcing users to show their real photo, or give their real name, wouldn't have any effect at all on the content, and therefore serves no purpose.

Also, it would certainly prevent some people registering. The first time I posted, I did it because I realized I could actually do it without even registering. I knew an answer, thought I could help, wrote a post and got some upvote. Gamification worked, I registered (under a nickname - I also liked the fact I could use a name even if it was not unique) and wrote more and more posts. If, at some point, I had to give my real name, give my picture, a phone number or anything personal, I would have stopped the process. Anonymity is important to me. I think I'm actually not the only one in that case.

  • Do profile pics serve a purpose then? If half of them are 'identicons' (I think they are called that here) and as such are probably not very memorable, can't we just have them be empty instead? This seems more honest, and in the spirit of anonymity. In other words, make images optional. If we are supposed to judge each post on its own merits, hide the author info behind a link. – user291305 Dec 2 '16 at 20:18
  • Images are optional. Look at yours, it's a default icon made up by a machine. You can't have something less personal than this. Which is fine. In my case, I wanted something more personal here, just because I was always confusing my default icon with the others. Otherwise, I would have kept it. – dim lost faith in SE Dec 2 '16 at 20:22
  • However, you can't really hide the author of the posts. Mainly because the comments need the authors to be identified, to be interpreted correctly. If you ask a clarification from OP, you need to know who answered it in the comments. If several people ask for different additional info, OP needs to be able to say to who the answering comments are directed. – dim lost faith in SE Dec 2 '16 at 20:27
  • @nocomprende one can just upload an empty image as avatar (e.g. one pixel of white color, or transparent rectangle, etc) and this will cause nothing to show up as their avatar. I just did it here. – Shadow9 Dec 2 '16 at 20:27
  • @dim users actually can opt to disassociate a question from their account. There's a mechanic for this. – Catija Dec 2 '16 at 20:29
  • @Catija can someone disassociate all questions and interactions from their account? I think that would be interesting. We should try it for a day and see what happens. Oh, gamification goes out the window... no rewards. (No risks either.) No game, no gain. Wouldn't matter to me, as my rep is so low anyhow. – user291305 Dec 5 '16 at 15:01
  • @nocomprende yes, you can. I've seen several users do it over my time here... thou this action is generally about disassociating from an entire site, so your account there is removed in the process. – Catija Dec 5 '16 at 15:08
  • @Catija I have removed more accounts by now than some people ever had. But then, I can't post on those sites anymore. I found that I was wasting too much time using my "Comment Everywhere" privilege, and so I reduced my list of accounts drastically. I thought that you meant that someone could stay active and have their stuff not associated. Would be an interesting experiment though if everyone disassociated from all their accounts for a day. "And then a Day as huge as Yesterday in pairs unrolled its horror on my face..." (Emily Dickinson) – user291305 Dec 5 '16 at 15:20

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