Nearly all the commonly used message boards allow the use of what is known as an “avatar.” These are the little pictures that you see next to the member’s names in the message thread. Many of the message boards I have been involved with offer a list of interesting avatars that you can set up in the user control panel. You can choose from a couple dozen or even hundreds of pre-selected avatars, or you can upload one from your computer, or point to one of your own located on your website.
Avatars are so popular and forums so prevalent that there are websites solely devoted to offering you a huge assortment of avatars. Some are free, some you pay for, some are plain and simple, some can be joined with frames and other image elements. They come in many sizes, but usually will not exceed the dimensions most common message boards allow. Here are just a few examples.
You can also make an avatar out of an image you already have, like a picture of yourself, your car or motorcycle, a pet or just about anything else. Of course, most of the images we have are way too big to use as an avatar. Yes, there is a way to resize an image and some message boards can do this automatically. Unfortunately, the average photograph does not lend itself to avatar use. Sizing the pictures we have down to avatar size will lose so much detail that the resulting image is unappealing. You should use image editing software to not only reduce the physical and file size of the image, but crop the image so that the most important aspect of the icon is left.
One question that always seems to crop up on message boards is, what is appropriate? There is certainly nothing wrong with a picture of yourself. After all, the definition of an avatar is a “virtual representation of yourself.” You might also want to represent yourself in a caricature, as I do in the avatar I have used many times – the one that leads this article off, or as a pet lover, a patriot, a computer fanatic, or any number of other ideals or fantasies. You might just want to use it as an opportunity to show off your work, your mate or your favorite technology.
The things we should consider are, ta daaa, each other. We should keep in mind that there are hundreds of people browsing the forums and message boards we frequent. There are many more people looking at and reading the boards than those who post. Some of us visit them every day, sometimes several times a day. Many of us are adults, but many have different sensibilities than you or I. There is also a huge population of child Netizens, maybe your son or daughter, that wander into these virtual rooms. There may be no hard and fast rules concerning avatars at the forums you congregate at. I would like to suggest some things you might consider before selecting your avatar.
Crop and resize your images to no larger than 120x120px (pixels) or smaller. They can be rectangular or oval, but no larger than 120×120.
Keep the file size no more than 15Kb. It reduces the time it takes a page to load and it is more considerate of the site owner, who pays a premium for high bandwidth usage.
Although there are thousands available, don’t use highly animated avatars. Mild animation is okay, but some distract from the focus of the forum and can become quite irritating, especially if there are several on the same page.
Keep them PG-13 rated or less. Try not to offend other members or visitors.
Of course, all of this depends on the community standards of the forum you are participating in. It’s nice to be able to show off our talent or taste in artwork, but when it is to the detriment of the information and communication that we all visit forums for, it – and you – loses its appeal quickly. It’s simply a matter of consideration for your fellow forumites.