hCard versus Gravatar

My ‘avatar’ is a small image of my face that is shown next to comments that I made, to identify me, on this blog and on many social networks.

Gravatar Gravatar

I uploaded my avatar to Gravatar.com which is a service that stores the avatars of millions of people and provides them to any social media web sites that want to display them. The main reason to use Gravatar is that whenever I want to update my image, I only need to do so once, in this one place, rather than updating it on the configuration pages of every social networking system I use.

My blog, running the WordPress.org software, is one of the many systems that fetches my avatar from Gravatar. In fact WordPress, by default, seems to only allow me to use Gravatar and not even to provide an option to host my own image directly.

But why should I use a third-party service? I want to host my personal identification at my own domain.

hCard microformat microformats

There’s already an Open protocol for publishing an identifying image of myself: the hCard microformat and specifically its “photo” property*. That’s more or less the same thing as an avatar. Gravatar even provides a user’s profile data as an hCard, including their avatar, as well as providing the avatar through its own Gravatar Image Requests protocol.

Anyone can implement hCard on their own domain just by inserting some static HTML markup. I’ve done it on my own site.

So if I have my domain why should I use Gravatar rather than hosting my own hCard?


  • If the Gravatar Image Requests protocol is much more useful than just serving a single static image, then my domain could host a service serving my own avatar through the Gravatar protocol. Instead of popular web sites assuming that they will fetch my avatar from (conceptually) www.gravatar.com/avatar/<me@my-domain> they should then fetch it in the same way but from an address like <my-domain>/avatar/<me>.
  • Any self-hosted software, such as WordPress.org, that can fetch my avatar from Gravatar should also offer the option of fetching it directly from my domain, in order to not force me to use a particular third-party service.
  • Although it would be nice, I wouldn’t expect a silo system to offer that option. They surely gain advantages such as efficiency by using a single third-party system to provide the avatars of all their users. However, Gravatar could offer the option to act as a proxy server for my own domain.

Can we design a system that retains any significant benefits of the Gravatar system while allowing me to host my data myself?

Is there at least a WordPress plug-in that provides something towards this?

Would parts of Gravatar’s protocol be a useful complement to the hCard protocol capabilities?

  • There is also an hCard “logo” property. There is also h-card, the microformats2 successor to hCard, with corresponding “u-photo” and “u-logo” properties.



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