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User Icons
LiveJournal supports a feature known to users of the site as "User Picture Icons" - those little 100x100 pixel icons that you see floating around in many parts of the site. These icons are something that some people consider next to godliness in the LJ world: people pay money just to be able to have more of them (50, as opposed to a limit of 15) and some people take great pride in their work on creating them.

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.

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A very interesting point — it’s indeed rare.  Let me introduce you to MetaJournal which also incorporates user icon support.  Also, using them as mood icons; yea, even 1015 icons are good for that, and it works in comments too! :)  Besides, the last time I saw the custom mood icon setup “interface”, it was as user friendly as a BSD base installation.

And I don’t see how this post can be offensive o.o

Note to self: early in the morning it can be hard to read properly with all the details, let along make sense.

Something about your new icon reminds me of the weather channel... like before they show the local forecast, they always have that little animation with clouds and stuff... I could totally see something like that, your face fading in and the words "Computer Geek" somehow making a grand appearance on the screen.

It's actually not as rare as you might think. FictionAlley has had "avatars" (which are basically icons) since the beginning. And that comes with our vBulletin software, which is widely used around the Internet. I think UBB has similar features.

Basically, it's common on forums, but doesn't seem so common on journals. I'm not exactly sure why that may be, but it could be because of journals being seen as a text-only thing.

For the last few weeks, I've been taking great care to have my photo taken in specific ways. It's amazing how default user pictures seem to almost be part of the way one defines others on LiveJournal, specifically those that they haven't met.

So I made a list of nine of the more famous user pictures, and I'm trying to resemble them as much as possible. So far I've done five of nine, and the likenesses are amazing. (sherm is my favourite so far.) I'm not up to crschmidt yet, mostly because I have to base a lot of it around haircuts. Yours is looking to be one of the most interesting photos. Not the most challenging, but the most interesting.

I guess part of the reason that the default icons work so well as they do has to do with their instant recognisability. Maybe it's like remembering what someone looks like, as well as their name; you're bound to remember at least one, but the look is usually more unique.

I wonder what kind of bedlam would occur if bradfitz changed his default icon.

Hello, Christopher!

I just wanted to say, that I really like, what and how You are writing. Interesting and informative. A nice change to realise this, when surfing on LJ. I've seen Your posts earlier in some communities.
In fact, when I will have more time, I'm gonna make a syndicated account to read Your journal on our server. :)
Looks like we both are trying to write not just for ourselves and not short. :) I don't like those journals, that are updated five times a day with only one or two sentences. But it's pretty hard to find persons, that don't do something like this.
Oh, yeah! I like this post and I'm gonna borrow some ideas from You. But I always give a reference. :)
And Your journal looks really good, too. :)

Kristaps / x-f

Uhh.. Drupal anyone?

(you have to configure it to 'on')


The fact that the technical ability is there, versus the fact that the social requirement is there, are very very different. In the LiveJournal world, you can't survive on a site that doesn't make it's user icons a priority. On Drupal, however, there's no social "call" for these types of icons, which is the main difference.

Virtually all Web bulletin board software nowadays incorporates user icons, typically 80x80 up to 120x120. In some of the most active communities online, users identify very much with their icons (and in some cases, such as the Live365 forums, the icons can even come to be a status symbol, depending on how many forums you are active in and moderate).

Places where icons and graphics aren't possible, the social custom for identifying people on the Internet has always been a unique name or sigline (USENet and Yahoo! Groups being the most common places this seems to occur). Even scrolling through a series of messages in a newsreader, one can just as easily recognize a person from their text identity, even if it may not be quite as colorful. (I guess that's where the statement, a picture's worth a thousand words comes into play :)

Just my thoughts,


hey i was just searching for sites with a lot of user icons. do you know of any good ones? my email is lumpsinmysugar@hotmail.com if you do know of any. thanks for your help!

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