For the last week, you may have noticed little pictures in the comments section. They are called avatars, and they’re hosted by a service called Gravatar.

If you’d like one, you can register and upload an image.1 It’s free and painless. Conveniently, the same picture will show up any blog that uses the Gravatar system, which will likely be a growing number, since the WordPress.com folks just bought the company.

I debated for several weeks whether or not to use them. Avatars feel a little social-networky, which this site certainly isn’t. But we get a lot of comments — sometimes 80+ — and being able to put a “face” with a name helps a lot. Also, I tend not to remember the names of people who post, but with photos, frequent commenters stand out.

The gravatars are a trial-basis thing. A couple of weeks from now, I might switch them off if I find they’re more annoying than useful. But feel free to use this comment thread to test them out, and offer any opinion on the issue.

  1. Note that it sometimes takes a few minutes for newly-uploaded images to show up, so don’t panic if it doesn’t register right away.