I have now updated this blog (and Speed Force) to WordPress 2.7 Final — using the built-in updater. It takes a while, but it’s entirely automated once I tell it “Install” and enter my FTP info.

The built-in plugin installer is very convenient as well.

The Flash 10 upload bug is fixed!

As with Speed Force, I’ve dropped the plugin I was using for avatars in favor of the built-in feature. It still generates Wavatars for those of you who leave your email address but don’t have Gravatars, but it seems to generate them differently, so you get a new and different monster.

All my plugins work as far as I can tell, but there are a couple of glitches:

WP-Super-Cache doesn’t seem to be deleting expired pages on schedule. And the spot for the convenient clear-cache-now buttons for that and WP Widget Cache doesn’t exist anymore, so if I do need to clear them out I need to go to the plugin’s settings page — which is what I had to do until a month ago anyway, so no big deal.

Also, Twitter Tools doesn’t seem to be able to pre-check the “Notify Twitter about this post” checkbox. But the important stuff works.

I’m still getting used to the new admin layout, but the only thing that really bugs me is there doesn’t seem to be a quick way to get to scheduled posts from the dashboard.

Other than that, so far so good. As always, let me know if anything seems broken.

Since Gravatar was bought by Automattic, the service has been a lot more stable. I had already re-enabled them on this blog before WordPress 2.5 came out with built-in Gravatar* support.

Not everyone has a Gravatar, though, so many comment threads just show the default icon, over and over. Not only does this look boring, but it misses out on the whole point of using an avatar: providing an easy at-a-glance visual distinction between each author.

When I first used Gravatars on this site, I set it up to use a giant first initial as a fallback. Now, I’ve been trying out two plugins that will automatically generate avatars for people who don’t have their own:

  • Wavatars builds up cartoony faces using geometric shapes. Interestingly, it’s by Shamus Young, author of the screencap-based webcomic DM of the Rings and writer of Chainmail Bikini.
  • WP_Identicon sounds like a Transformers faction, but produces a geometric pattern as inspired by Don Park’s Identicon, which built a similar image based on a visitor’s IP address. The same author also has one that generates cartoon monsters, which appears to be one of the earliest implementations of this concept.

These plugins will use a Gravatar if available, or else generate an image based on the commenter’s email address (if supplied). That means each comment by the same person should use the same image. Other blogs using the same plugins at default settings will come up with the same avatar for each commenter, as well. The images are stored in a cache, so each only has to be generated once.

6 Wavatars to the left, 6 Identicons to the right

Once I made sure both plugins worked, I showed the results to Katie. We ended up settling on Wavatars, since faces are easier to recognize than patterns. (Though the patterns are really cool!)

You can try out the automatic avatar by leaving a (relevant, please!) comment on any post. Or you can run over to Gravatar and set up an icon of your choice!

*What’s a Gravatar? The intent is to be a Globally Recognized Avatar. You upload an image to Gravatar and associate it with your email address. Then any site with Gravatar support will be able to display your image next to your posts. Right now it’s mostly used in blog comments, but it could easily be worked into forums, wikis, etc. The Gravatar Blog mentions other uses they’ve seen people apply it to, such as plugins for Thunderbird and the Mac OS X Address Book

Note: I did notice one important drawback to the WP_Identicon plugin: it’s very inefficient at generating the images. When I first visited posts with long comment threads, like Another One Bites the Dust (174 comments) and Songs Not to Play at a Wedding (87 comments), WP_Identicon took over a minute to generate all the icons and maxed out the server’s CPU. Sure, the images are cached, so it’s only really an issue when you first install the plugin (unless you get a lot more people commenting at once than we do here), but to compare, Wavatar on an empty cache finished the same posts in just 4 seconds and 2 seconds, respectively.

Well, I signed up with Gravatar, mainly so I could test the plugin.

Basically the idea is that you can define an avatar that will follow you around the Internet, anywhere you post. All that’s necessary is for the site you’re commenting on to be Gravatar-enabled at the time someone visits.

The one thing I’m not entirely thrilled about is that it uses your email address as the basis for your ID. They really didn’t have many options to choose from, since most blog comment forms only have space for your name (not always unique), email address, and website (not everyone has one). To avoid publishing addresses accidentally, they one-way encrypt it using MD5. (MD5 is a hash function, so while you can have two systems generate an MD5 signature from the same data to see if it matches, you can’t restore the original from the signature.)

If you’re interested in Gravatars, head over to their site, see if you agree with their policies, and if you enter your email address when commenting (don’t worry, current and future WordPress versions never display it outside of the admin area), your avatar will show up next to your comments.

Anyway, once I had gravatars showing up, I had to find a layout that (a) looked good and (b) worked in IE. (Yes, that again.) Continue reading