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  • Way Off-Topic Do avatars "dumb down" a message board?

    There's an ongoing debate on a message board that I belong to over the possible addition of avatars. It's a general interest message board that prides itself on its intellectual discussion, and many members have very limited exposure to other message boards, even though it has a fair deal of immature off-topic discussion. The board is one of the very few (that I know of) vBulletin-based sites where users do not have the option of adding an avatar to their user profile. The majority of people participating in the most recent avatar debate are vehemently opposed to avatars, mainly for the following reasons:

    1) It will attract an undesirable element to the board; mainly teenagers and other immature folks who are more attracted to bright, shiny objects than the character of the community and the quality of discussion.

    2) Members will be inspired to post more outrageous and shocking avatars, such as images depicting Hitler, swastikas, turds, aborted fetuses, and so on.

    3) Avatars will turn otherwise intelligent forum participants into drooling idiots, inspiring them to post one-line followups in textspeak instead of the mostly well-crafted prose that is now the norm ... well, at least half of the time.

    4) Avatars, even if they aren't animated, are horribly distracting, like bugs identifying the network that sit at the corner of the screen while one watches television.

    The "you can turn 'em off" replies of the pro-avatar minority seem to fall onto a deaf ear. Some think that even if they're turned off, just knowing that others can see them will change the character of the board in some indescribable way, almost like how the widespread adoption of color changed the nature of cinematography.

    So, do you know of any message board where avatars have been added, and the worst case scenario happened; immature teens were drawn to the site, people started posting avatars of Hitler, discussion devolved into one-line lulz, and so on? On sites where avatars were recently introduced, has the character of the board changed in any way?
    Last edited by cyburbia; Sun 18 May '08, 10:09am.
    Cyburbia Forums - a third place for urban planners
    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums

  • #2
    Sounds like a mass hysteria of fear of the unknown. For some reason, intellectual groups often resist new ideas. I always thought part of being intellectual was to be open minded. heh.

    If avatars are introduced to your forums, there are many ways to control the type of avatar allowed, even to control whether members can use their own avatar or use only what the administration provides as official avatars.

    Those who resist are merely being sticks in the mud. Avatars don't kill, people do.
    ~ Life isn't always fair, but you can be. ~

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    • #3
      Avatars are so common on forums that I question why some forums don't allow them. Is it because they are too cheap to use a host service that won't be slowed down by the use of these minor graphical representations of the members? Do they have control issues? Is the tone of the site so stodgy that expressions of individuality threaten the false sense of tranquility? I usually won't join a forum that doesn't celebrate all that the Internet and computers has evolved to. I believe my cell phone does texting well enough. I could toss my computer out and just use the phone, or, heaven forbid, use pen and paper or a typewriter.

      Anyway, the topic reminded me of a blog article I wrote: To Avatar, or Not to Avatar

      Jim
      If my post was helpful to you, please take the time to register at my forum and ask a question you've always wanted to know about floors.
      www.TheFloorPro.com

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      • #4
        Originally posted by eJM View Post
        Is the tone of the site so stodgy that expressions of individuality threaten the false sense of tranquility?
        Well, the members tend to believe that their message board is the only "intelligent" general-interest message board online. Changes are few and far-between; the board uses vBulletin 3.0.X, there are very few smileys (and many members are vocally opposed even to their existence), and it's usually years between the times new subforums are added. About a year ago, message editing was first introduced, again despite much opposition from many long-time users. ("That's what preview is for!") Even with just a five-minute edit window, many feared the edit window would allow the opportunity for trolling; for instance, someone would post something offensive, people would line up to flame, and the poster would change the message to something entirely different at the end of the edit window.
        Last edited by cyburbia; Sun 18 May '08, 11:47am.
        Cyburbia Forums - a third place for urban planners
        http://www.cyburbia.org/forums

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        • #5
          I think avatars are a vital part of a community. It helps make people be more unique and easier to quickly identify in a thread visually. And it makes it more interesting for users to come back and feel more involved in the community if they have permission to set one.

          I always feel that the staff should have an easy to identify staff themed avatar.
          And I always feel that newbies should not get them. It should be for regulars (returning posting users).
          And I always feel that the staff should have a bit bigger one than users, an that a small (up to) 65/65 or 75/75 avatar is big enough ..
          I agree that the shiny element should be taken away, by say not allowing big avatars that animate. It's not needed.

          That said, on vBulletin.com for example here, I disabled displaying signatures and avatars. They are distracting, and I want to focus on the content of the thread/post.

          Let me leave a few comments ..

          1) It will attract an undesirable element to the board; mainly teenagers and other immature folks who are more attracted to bright, shiny objects than the character of the community and the quality of discussion.
          I am usually quite strict, if we think the avatar is too big, too shiny, too much of a attention drawer, like - pretending to be staff, important, or better than others, or used to advertise .. we ask the user to remove it, or remove it for them. It's our forums, we are free to do what we want. (not talking about vbcom btw)

          2) Members will be inspired to post more outrageous and shocking avatars, such as images depicting Hitler, swastikas, turds, aborted fetuses, and so on.
          Users who do that should get banned, they are not the audience we want on our sites.

          3) Avatars will turn otherwise intelligent forum participants into drooling idiots, inspiring them to post one-line followups in textspeak instead of the mostly well-crafted prose that is now the norm ... well, at least half of the time.
          I do not agree. avatars have nothing to do with their posting behaviour.

          4) Avatars, even if they aren't animated, are horribly distracting, like bugs identifying the network that sit at the corner of the screen while one watches television.
          You can turn them off as option. The admin on a site can simply decide to make them smaller, not animated, or not allow them for certain usergroups. This is not even worth as argument in this discussion to be honest.

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          • #6
            While I have avatars enabled on all my forums I really don't think they add any value to a community. Most of the arguments the users have about not wanting them are valid. One of my communities only allow avatars after 50 posts. Maybe that would be a way to appease the members that are against them while still allowing users that want them to have them.
            Admins Zone - Resources for Forum Administrators

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            • #7
              I think oversized avatars make a forum look terrible.

              But by keeping avatars a modest size, i think they look very presentable in pretty much any forum situation.. I keep mine at 75x75..
              MCSE, MVP, CCIE
              Microsoft Beta Team

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              • #8
                I can only imagine that avatars would dumb down a very serious board, with themes like politics, medicine, law, etc. otherwise I can't see any reason for disabling avatars. some of the biggest boards in existence use them are happy with it. profile pictures, on the other hand... imo, they are completely useless. I've yet to come across a relatively large forum where profile pictures are enabled and are widely used.

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                • #9
                  I've been using message boards for seven or eight years, and avatars have almost always been a part of them. They can make a user more unique and more easily recognizable. Large avatars look really bad though, I think smaller avatars, right around 70x70 pixels is perfect. One forum I used to visit has it set to 50x50, because it was initially launched in 2000 and the admin won't budge.

                  Profile pictures however are useless, and I prefer when they are disabled altogether.

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                  • #10
                    I see avatars the same way I see signatures, user titles, post icons, etc ... it adds flavor to the site. It adds personality and character. It breaks the monotony of the layout.

                    I would never register to a site that looks like they copied the archive section of vBulletin for a layout, unless I badly want an answer to a question and intend to leave, never to come back, as soon as I get it.

                    Avatars allow members to express themselves without actually having to post anything yet. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Some of those who don't like avatars are probably afraid of expressing themselves, anyway

                    Of course, that doesn't mean that there should be no control over how it's implemented. It's the same way for signatures, user titles, etc. The maximum avatar size I use on my site is 120x120, and I'm the only one who uses it the members can only use a maximum of 100x100... for the longest time I only allowed avatars that are 64x64 maximum, but with the apparent evolution of the standard resolution increasing from 800x600 to 1024x768, as well as broadband being the norm nowadays, my forums can now afford to implement larger avatars.

                    Anyway, a forum with no avatars just doesn't seem fun to me. If the forum concentrates more on purely serious discussion than colloquial fun from time to time, then I can see how avatars can get in the way of that theme.

                    I don't see myself ever spending my time in a forum like that though

                    - T
                    OPEN TECH SUPPORT
                    "Tech is our middle name!"

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Tolitz View Post
                      The maximum avatar size I use on my site is 120x120, and I'm the only one who uses it the members can only use a maximum of 100x100... for the longest time I only allowed avatars that are 64x64 maximum, but with the apparent evolution of the standard resolution increasing from 800x600 to 1024x768, as well as broadband being the norm nowadays, my forums can now afford to implement larger avatars.
                      The 4:3 aspect ratio continues to die out and the entry level monitor resolution is now a 16:10 aspect ratio, with 1440 X 900 being the most popular. As monitor resolutions increase will you increase avatar sizes again?

                      To the original question, Avatars create identity. An individual can easily set the same avatar across multiple forums, instant messenger programs and social networking sites. This means that you can be easily identified as you travel across the webscape and leave your mark. They are a lot easier to recognize than usernames, signatures or other facets of a community. Personally, I use Avatars all the time to identify who is speaking and whether they are a trusted individual or not. Since I am probably registered at 100 or so forums and half a dozen social networking sites, identifying someone quickly and easily is important.
                      Translations provided by Google.

                      Wayne Luke
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                      vBulletin 5 API - Full / Mobile
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Wayne Luke View Post
                        As monitor resolutions increase will you increase avatar sizes again?
                        Why not? If I stuck with the "original" 40x40 size I used when I first started using avatars (way back in UBB 5.x), then imagine how "tiny" they might seem in today's default resolutions?

                        - T
                        OPEN TECH SUPPORT
                        "Tech is our middle name!"

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                        • #13
                          It really does depend on the forum.

                          If it is community orientated then they are next to essential imo.

                          Don't forget, those who don't want to see avatars can turn them off in their options, under: Visible Post Elements.
                          What's Special About Ruby on Rails?

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