Typically, I post with a User Picture Icon that was taken when I was 17 years old - a late night webcam shot with me staring directly at the computer. This image has always been one I've identified with: it is the way I so often am, staring silently, but intently, at the machine. This icon was made at a time when I was bored of that icon, and wanted to change to something a bit different. It was made by one of my current roommates: Kristan. It incorporates my default icon as well as a statement about me.
To a large extent, I associate people whose journals I read on LiveJournal with the icons they choose. These icons are the visual identifiers that I choose to remember when I'm browsing through - Mark uses a terminal-colored icon with 0's and 1's. (Approximately 16 months ago, he changed the icon to have a small animation to change one of the corner numbers out - something that some people didn't realize for a long time. One of my friends didn't notice until just a month ago.) Some people use a multitude of icons which they change for every post: Jess does this a lot, although I now recognize most of her icons.
These icons are something that almost no other site has an equivalent to. They are one of the things that makes LiveJournal feel different in many ways to me: No where else do you get an image that you associate with someone. Even the favicon that many sites use does not do the user justice - it is much harder to shove content into a 16x17 image than it is to shove content into a 100x100 image. Indeed, a Wordpress developer recently set up a plugin for commenting that uses the Favicon file from the users site displaying alongside the comment as a visual indicator. Still, this doesn't even approach the level of expression that LJ userpics offer.
I wonder why that is. Why do no other packages allow you to offer a visual representation of yourself for use all over the site? And I mean all over - everywhere you go, from the support boards to comments, from directory searches to user information pages, this image is used to identify you. Is it really not that important to other people to have that visual identifier? I've always found it to be fascinating what people choose to identify themselves with. Do other people not have this fascination?
I like LiveJournal's user icons. I really wish that more sites would offer something similar. Unfortunately, it seems that only LiveJournal feels that this visual representation is actually of interest to its users. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong (I'm quite sure I am!) but it seems to me that this is one of those things - call it vanity, or call it pride, or call it extra bandwidth - that sets journals hosted on LJ apart. Of course, the level of community and the number of comments you can get, the built in aggregator, the compliance with emerging standards (LJ supported Atom when it was still tenatively being called Pie) and more all set the site apart, but visually, no site has the same feel in comment threads as seeing people argue back and forth and changing their icons to match their mood.
A bit of history: the icons were originally designed to be "mood" icons, according to some comments I've seen (but can't find at the moment) and also hinting in the lj_dev post about using a keyword to identify the use of a UPI. (Specifically, Mart's comments give a lot of credence to the idea, given that he is one of the older developers on the site.) Due to lack of bandwidth and so on, this was limited in the past, but I've seen them used in this way a lot in commenting back and forth between people on the site.
I have about 5 posts running through my head right now, but they would probably be controversial, both among friends and enemies, and to be honest, I'm kind of tired of having to deal with all the enemies I've made. It's unfortunate that I've made mistakes that cause people to have such a great dislike for me: people like scsi, xb95, rahaeli, all of whom I hold in the highest respect, seem to think that the only goal I have in mind is to cause trouble, when truly, all I want to do is have my voice be heard.
So, in combination with a post about what I think about user icons, here's this: To anyone I have offended or insulted, I apologize. I can be childish, crude, rude and troublesome, but in the end, that's not my goal. I like to enjoy myself, have fun, and see myself treated as an equal - and sometimes, on the road to getting there, I over step my bounds. Again, I'm sorry. I realize I can be a dick to work with sometimes, and I hope that those of you who may hold grudges against me for whatever reason can understand that it's almost never my intent to harm someone's feelings, reputation, or productivity. That may be the end result, but it's entirely unintentional. To anyone who has ever been waiting for the olive branch from me: here it is. Take it or leave it.