As a developer and technology guy in general I like the convince of Gravatar. Sites enabled with it just pick up my profile picture based on my email address, nothing additional I need to do to set that up, which is always nice. So when we started working on Resgrid and wanted to throw in a profile picture/avatar is was a no brainer, we used Gravatar.
Resgrid is a SaaS product utilizing Microsoft Azure, providing logistics, management and communication tools to first responder organizations like volunteer and career fire departments, EMS, (SAR) Search and Rescue, CERT, public safety, disaster relief organizations, etc. It was founded in late 2012 by myself and Jason Jarrett (staxmanade).
But as time went on I noted that very few users in our system ever set one up. Even customers that really wanted profile pictures (some use those images to determine the rank or capabilities of their personnel) never setup Gravatar’s.
This past week I had the opportunity to talk to one of those customers. To see why they never used it, their response was 2 fold. 1.) They didn’t want YAS (Yet Another Service) with credentials to remember and 2.) Admins\Officers couldn’t set pictures up for their personnel.
I noticed the pain myself with the Gravatar service when I was working on the ability for personnel to update their own profiles from the mobile app. There seems no easy way from within the context of an application to allow users to update their picture. On a mobile app I’m not going to bounce users outside the app to try and use another website JUST to update a profile picture.
So where did we go wrong? Is Gravatar a bad tool?
When designing a product or service it will inevitably have a target audience. Stack Overflow is geared toward developers and technical folk. But Resgrid targets first responders who are usually not highly technical. It’s nothing for a developer to sign up for YAS, were used to it. But for people who aren’t technical even the simplest account setup is a huge barrier to cross.
As a developer I didn’t put myself in the context of my target audience, I took something that I do normally and applied it to my customers. For the most part anytime you do this, your going to fail.
So is Gravatar a bad tool/service? No it isn’t, but it does have a target audience, just like everything.
So when should you use Gravatar?
- You have a technical audience that doesn’t mind YAS. (i.e. for a security/privacy oriented product/service I wouldn’t use it even if the target audience is developers)
- Profile pictures aren’t an important part of your product or service
- Users are only in charge of their own profile pictures
- You don’t have a mobile app where users can update their profile from
- Your product or service is dealing with Word Press (since acquiring Gravatar anyone with a Word Press account has a Gravatar)
The lesson here? Always think about your target audience and build the product or service for them. Evaluate what your doing and using and apply that filter to it.