Throughout my digital career (in both amateur and professional status), I’ve used a multitude of personalised avatars.
I’ve pasted ten of the more prominent (in my mind, if not in digital footprint) examples below.
Evolution of avatars
There is a noticeable continuity, as my projected self as evolved. I’d never really wanted my face to be over the internet so after the first iteration and a couple of poor attempts at humour I settled (largely) on popular culture icons. I started with random “cult” characters before progressing to avatars that reflected either my mood, look (when I had bigger hair, there was a resemblance with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) or personality.
And so Columbo is where I am now. Although choices can be frivolous, the icons or avatars that we are use are pretty important. It creates a first impression, and will be the image others associate with you, often even after they’ve met you in person.
I’m fairly consistent in my use of Columbo now – the only place I actively and publicly use that doesn’t have Columbo as my avatar is Linked In, due to their insistence that the avatar has to be of you (so I have the default shaded outline). It could be argued that different sites should have different avatars, since they represent separate parts of a distributed digital personality. But while I don’t side with Mark Zuckerberg in thinking that people that have more than one identity are fraudulent, I do prefer the consistency of recognition across sites and platforms.
The reason I’m posting about this is that I’m changing my policy on having my face on the internet. This is partly down to my bylines on Mediatel and Research having a picture, but it also reflects the number of contacts I’ve made over the past few years through blogging and through the research industry (and would like to continue making).
When I started this blog, I was wilfully anonymous. That was partly because I wasn’t sure what my employer at the time (ITV) would think of me writing about video content and marketing in a public forum, but also because of my relatively lowly status. When I set this blog up, I was a 24-year-old fairly junior market researcher. The blogs I enjoyed reading and commenting on were written by far more intelligent and experienced people who were mainly in the marketing and comms industries. I felt (rightly or wrongly, you decide) that being anonymous would allow my thoughts and ideas to stand up for what they were, rather than be coloured by perceptions of my relative inexperience.
Anyway, I eventually started writing under my full name and I put a small bio (I hate bios) up. But going under an avatar means that when I go to public events, people who I interact with online won’t recognise me and so it is my prerogative to seek out them. unfortunately, I’m not the most observant person so I’ve missed several opportunities to meet and greet.
The present and future
So, I’m rectifying this by putting a picture of myself on the blog’s about page.
As you can see, it is not a “corporate” picture. I still think corporate pictures are grotesque – either in their “sexy execs” style cringeworthiness or their overly conscious attempt at kookiness cringeworthiness. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid this at Essential (for the time being) by having a Wii Mii avatar. I’m not particularly photogenic but the picture nicely captures two of my interests (music and beer), and so could be considered “authentic”. At least, it is more authentic than me sitting on a stool at a 45 degree angle forcing a smile to guy with a huge flash on his camera)
I’m not planning to use my real face as my avatar, even though I’ve read many blogs and articles saying that this is a barrier to properly “connecting” (I suspect this is slightly more of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic), particularly due to the aging process. The blurry avatar that I use was taken when I was 21, yet I still use it in some places. In the four years I’ve used Twitter (I had my anniversary on Tuesday), I’ve seen some people retain the same image of their face. Surely over four years they’ve changed their hairstyle, or gained a few character lines on their face.
While there may be many benefits to using your real face as an avatar, the main drawback is vanity. 70s era Columbo will live forever, and I will continue to use him as long as his personality is consistent with what I want to project.