I just realized I am Advertising/Spamming my own blog and other blogs on which I have commented in the past because I just changed my Avatar from this:

Old Boles Avatar

To this:

New Boles Avatar

Hand Jive: American Sign Language for Real Life” is my new book with Janna Sweenie and I thought making the book cover my new Avatar would be a fun way to celebrate and announce the arrival of the book in bookstores on or around October 2, 2006. Now that I see the new Avatar, I like the semiotic change, but I now wonder if, in addition to being my own whore, if I am now my own Spammer?

What’s to stop active — or better yet, INactive — blog commenters from getting hired by companies to change their Avatar to promote a website or a phone number or some other advertising blitz? Can you imagine being a new beer company and going out and finding the top 1,000 blog commenters and having them all change their Avatars to the logo for your beer?

Why it’s sheer viral genius! You could buy hundreds of thousands of page views on the cheap that could reach for years back into the history of Avatar-enabled blog pages on thousands of blogs — and the beauty part is this: No one would be the wiser.

The Search Engines already indexed and tagged the old content as safe and sufficient and your Avatar Ads would be silently served up when a search return is clicked through to the blog. The Blogmaster would never know — especially if you were not posting recent comments.

Blog owners like the personal touch Avatars bring to their comments but with my Avatar Spam-Advertising scheme, the real power to control the identity and the visual semiotic of a blog would be in complete control of the end-user-commenter who can change an Avatar on a whim or a bribe or a kiss in the dark. Blogmasters can always turn off Avatars — or delete all the comments of offending Avatar commenters — if they become a nuisance and not a delight, but where would one draw the line between being annoying and appreciating the comments even if the Avatar was semi-self-serving or even blatantly self-aggrandizing like mine? Can “Akismet for Avatars” and “The Avatar Ad Network” be far behind?

Blogmasters have been making money on their commenters for a long time now with Advertising revenue that gets “played” every time a popular page with all those luscious comments is viewed by eager reader eyes. Isn’t it about time the “professional commenter” is able to independently bite into the blog revenue pie with an Advertising Avatar? I’m sure I’ll be tempted to turn off Avatars here after everyone reads this and resets their Avatars to line their own pockets… but I have books to sell…


  1. Someone will make a lot of money bribing you to use their Avatars. Guess I should get me one.

  2. Is the “Hand Jive avatar” patient zero in a soon to explode epidemic of avatar spam?
    I’m surprised no one else figured it out before this!
    David, you should apply for a process patent quickly so you can profit off of the soon to explode avatar spam industry that is sure to develop once they pick up this post from Technorati.
    Of course, you’d could be waiting a long time for any money from the avatar spam process invention.
    Writes Wikipedia in it’s “Business Method Patent” article:

    As of 2006, the USPTO is experiencing significant delays in examining business method patents. Projected delays of up to 14 years have been reported.

    I better go change my avatar before Askimet fires up it’s lazer beams!

  3. Chris!
    Yes! Give Akismet another reason to grab you!
    I’m waiting for the moment your beautiful face turns into an Ad for “Free Phones Chicago!” Ha! And why WOULDN’T you choose an Avatar that benefited you in some way? Why wouldn’t we all?
    Who needs payments for Avatars when you can serve yourself?
    I should patent the process. There must be a market somewhere for an Avatar Ad Network that would be like Gravatar.com where people would go to sign up and have “Ads” served as their Avatar and they’d get paid per impression. The “pro commenters” would make out big as they post 100 comments a day all over the blogosphere.
    Then you’d entice Blogmasters with money to add the “Avatar Ad Code” to their blogs and everyone would win!
    Soon enough our blogs would be more peppered with advertising than a NASCAR race uniform!

  4. Hi David,
    We could all have “Million Dollar Webpages” where free pixels could be auctioned off to the highest bidder!
    Maybe there could be a gravatar market where prolific posters could auction off their services.
    I see someone making a lot of money from this before Askimet for Gravatars gets fired up!
    I wonder if the gravatar avatar review committee keeps an eye out for obvious spamatars when they do their ratings?

  5. Hi Chris!
    Love it! I don’t know if Gravatars.com scans the submitted Avatars for obvious Spam.
    How would you decide if a Cowboys football helmet was a fan image or a paid Ad? The same trouble comes in icons for beer or cars or cell phones.
    If someone is adding text to an Avatar with a phone number or a website address then it might become easier to poke down the effort, but if someone is truly and secretly getting paid to Advertise a message semiotically, I think it would be a hard thing to tamp away.

  6. I uploaded my new avatar prototype showing what a NASCAR-style format could look like.
    Each pixel could be rented for $10.
    Since the gravatar is 80×80 that could be $640,000 total available avatar real estate, if I did my math correctly.

  7. I think it’s a genius idea, Chris!
    WordPress.com just enabled Avatars for all their hosted blogs — MOO-HOO-HA-HA-HARR-HEH-HA!
    I can’t wait to see your NASCAR-style Avatar! Bring Watkins Glen into the Urban Semiotic!

  8. Branding works ……… I did wonder about making a “The Edge” avatar, or even a “Life at the Edge” one – but I stepped back from it.
    Part of the reason I blog is to show that a lot of my life is normal – I have the same worries, concerns and fears as most people – a bit of a PR exercise.
    There is also a large part of me that just wants to be me – not the product I promote.
    The avatar I have can be safely left anywhere – especially if I use “Nicola” rather than “MsDemmie”. I have enough places to drop my “purple edge” and stick to targetted marketing in specific places.
    However there looks as if there is some serious marketing and money to be made here by the looks of it – maybe that will have to change.

  9. Chris —
    I know! It would be great to have Avatars change here fast. When I changed mine over the weekend it changed in under an hour. I was so happy! Sometimes it can take 2-3 days!
    I wonder if there is a way to locally host Avatars? I’d probably have to reopen registration to make that happen, though, and that can be a managerial can-of-worms.

  10. Hi Nicola!
    I certainly understand a “regular” Avatar can be innocuous and friendly but if there’s a penny to be squeezed from the friendly on the web to make it obnoxious and, perhaps, silly — it will be done. It shall be done.
    Most blogs run really TINY Avatars — which I never understood… either use them as big as they are so you can see them or don’t enable them at all — and that might make it hard to get your advertising punch across.

  11. I have noticed that haloscan render them really small – and a lot of forum boards I use have 60X60 limits – which seems pretty pointless. I suppose it could be a bandwidth issue ?

  12. Hi Nicola —
    I don’t think it’s a bandwidth issue since the Avatars are being served remotely — so the Avatar server would be “spending” the bandwidth” — and the Avatars are stored in a place like Gravatar.com in 80×80 format.
    The local blogs then “resize them” in the PHP code to the size they want.
    If your favorite WordPress-enabled blog isn’t hosting your Avatar at 80×80 it’s likely because the Blogmaster only wants a tiny icon for you and not your natively hosted size.
    Haloscan… don’t know how they run their Avatar scheme…

  13. Interesting!
    I never thought an avatar being a form of advertising! I should investigate about it more!

  14. The thing that would make or break avatar advertising is the ability to link to a different web site.
    A person seeing your comment on a different web site would probably barely even register that your avatar has a book on it. They would most likely think that ‘hand jive’ is an interest of yours and not give it too much more thought. A person who would think that perhaps there was something more to it would have to then spend the effort to put some research into what exactly ‘hand jive’ is – something which most people have no interest in doing.
    I miss your avatar. I was starting to wonder when you were going to update it with a more recent photograph.

  15. I don’t think knowing what an Avatar is or represents is important, Gordon. This is viral advertising supported by other, more obvious Ad campaigns.
    Do you “link to a different website” with a matchbook, a bus Ad, a magazine photo? There are many kinds of advertising and sometimes the subtlest and the most effective are seeded SEMIOTIC IMAGES that are ignited later into blossom from a fallow mind.
    If you miss my other Avatar you may visit it all day long here:
    and admire it in the right hand gutter.

  16. The word “advertise” has a typical association with money and profit in it, so if I plan to advertise anything I will do it for the hard cash.
    What image I will prefer to advertise will depend on what I am planning to advertise for…most probably it will be an eye catching one liner.

  17. A matchbook, bus ad, and magazine photo all have something in common – 9 times out of 10 they give you a phone number to call, an address to go to (web or physical, etc.
    if you go to my livejournal – gordond at livejournal – you can see I have a whole lot of avatars right here.
    Are any of those advertisements? Perhaps, but not intentionally.
    I suppose ultimately you’re right about the seeded semiotic images that ignite later.

  18. Gordon —
    The point I’m trying to make is the seeding of a larger advertising idea via viral Avatars than more traditional media.
    In fact, one could argue the strength of Avatar Advertising is in that you CANNOT click on anything and the fact that we are denying you that instant pleasure will bother you enough to remember our Avatar or go out and release your frustration by “looking us up” on your own later.
    I looked at the Avatars on your page and none of them are quite what I’m talking about here. You could to create an Avatar that just says in words: “Vampire Bear.” People would look at it, wonder on the strange co-mingling of words and look it up in Google and find you. That’s viral marketing at its best.

  19. This sort of thing is already done on Myspace with the avatars for movie characters, etc.
    Look at the Myspace profile for “Heather” from the movie, John Tucker Must Die.
    Ashanti’s face is on the avatar and she shows up in “Friends” lists of anyone who adds her movie character profile via Myspace.

  20. Hi Chris —
    Excellent demo, Chris! Young kids could make a lot of money if they were paid to celebrate the things they already admire and promote for free!

  21. I think I have created the ultimate gravatar for this thing we call capitalism.
    I hope that works. I’m going to have to change my gravatar back in a few days after I get tired of seeing this silly one but it was fun to make.

  22. That’s what I get for not putting things on my own server, I guess. I don’t even feel like using this as a gravatar. It was still fun to make, though.
    No particular product is being pushed and yet a person is compelled to take out their wallet. Good for Uncle Sam!

  23. Oh, and Gordon…
    If your new Avatar says ANYTHING like “Boles Sucks” or “Don’t Buy Hand Jive” there will a whole new level of DEVIOUSNESS at play here!!!

  24. I heard that if you don’t spend most of your money unnecessarily, you’re letting the terrorists win.

  25. Everyone could have fun doing all sorts of things with their avatars.
    David, you might be starting a trend that might span the globe.
    Since gravatar hasn’t changed my avatar yet, here’s what’s awaiting approval: Gravatar-collage.

  26. Hi David,
    I’m glad I could make my avatar TOTALLY SEMIOTIC!
    I guess all try to be, but my soon-to-be new one is more so than others. 😉
    I do like Gordon’s avatar also. He should encourage people to buy more cell phones. 🙂

  27. Hi Chris —
    Yes, TOTALLY SEMIOTIC is the goal and yes, all Avatars are semiotic by default, but your collage Avatar is TOTALLY SEMIOTIC!
    I agree Gordon has a lot of work to do with his Avatars to help make us money. We’ll have to keep on him about that.

  28. Indeed we are.
    One day I may win some sort of government award for saving the economy through my “spend your money” ads.
    Alternatively I could be villified for putting everyone in great revolving credit card debt.

  29. Gordon —
    I really like the idea blaming you for all credit card debt. Does that suggest a new Avatar in the future for you? “BUY IT NOW, BILL ME LATER!”

  30. Wow!
    This is like a carnival of Avatar!
    Too bad I am busy with a huge assignment which is due this week…. 🙁

  31. Hi David,
    I could spend all day playing around with avatars!
    I decided to go with something that looked mystical, ancient, yet modern, exciting and little dangerous with the red color.

  32. So I will have to sell myself to the highest bidder ……..
    Complicated maths …… some kind of formula – I comment on x number of blogs read by y number of people for z amount of time and linked to t number of tags and l number of links.

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