Avatars – How much or to what extent do user avatars affect your perception of the people behind them?
Avatars greatly affect my perception of the people I am dealing with online. In the olden days of IRC, MUDs and MOOs, people relied on an avatar to pass on a certain impression of what they were about. As scanners were so expensive and not as easy to use/access back then, people chose or created images that represented their persona, fantasy, alter-ego (e.g. vampires, symbols, animated gifs, cartoon characters, etc.).
As time wore on and people started using their real pictures in a variety of online contexts, I unconsciously make assumptions about someone based on their appearance… as, I suspect, we all do at some stage or another when we meet new people in face-to-face situations.
From a personal perspective, an avatar can attract, repel me, or simply make me feel indifferent – those that attract me or pique my curiosity, I will approach to interact with; those that I find less appealing, I will just let them to approach me. However, this is a subconscious process. An avatar may act as an elevator pitch in the first instance but, ultimately, I seek out what words are used by that person and the kind of presence they wish to represent themselves with online.
I also find that I will not pay too much attention to an avatar that is blank, or not added to one’s online profile. Here’s an example I can refer to in today’s world… I’m a moderately heavy Twitter user. When one starts using Twitter, they are asked to add a thumbnail image of who they are and what best epitomises them. If a Twitter user has the stock standard egg image, I may not stick around to find out more, as I will hastily pre-judge them and deem them to be newbies or apathetic about how they choose to present themselves in their little corner of cyberspace. However, if I have a few moments and I see that an egg has already made over 100 tweets and has more than a handful of followers, I will dig deeper to look at their profiles. I guess I like to see if I can glean what they’re generally about.
Having said all that, it really comes down to a combination of all the elements of one’s online presence which attracts me to follow or interact with someone. The avatar is like a business card for me… the name one selects might also make me curious to find out more. But if someone’s profile is uninteresting, I deduce that they’re a dud in my book and I get on with my life.