Welcome to week 3: privacy and avatars!
Please, spare us the James Cameron jokes. An avatar is simply an image you use to represent yourself when you’re online. It’s also sometimes called a “profile image” or, less frequently, a “member icon.” If you plan to spend much time online, you’ll find your time is much more fun with an avatar.
Seriously? Why would I need an avatar?
Any time you’re joining an online group, you become a part of that community; when people in a community are faceless, it’s harder to interact in meaningful ways. It’s as simple as that. Would you show up for a dinner party or a meeting at work with a paper bag over your head?
Really? You would? Hmm. That might explain why your last dinner party didn’t go so well for you.
Avatars, or profile images, are pretty much universal when you’re online, but you can use them in a lot of different ways. Remember our friends from the last two classes? They use avatars, too.
Michael doesn’t want to show what he looks like online, so he uses a funny crayon drawing he made of himself when he was a kid.
Erin uses her avatar professionally, so she uses a flattering close-up profile of her face.
Sean is more restless, so he changes his from week to week, sometimes using pictures of himself, sometimes cartoon images, sometimes interesting images he found online, and sometimes his own photos that he took of cool stuff.
Your avatar can be as simple or as creative as you wish. You’re the boss.
What is an Avatar?
“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
In fact, they don’t know you at all, do they?
The anonymity of the internet can be very exciting and very freeing, but it also tempts people to act in ways (usually worse ways) they wouldn’t normally, or if other people knew who they were. For this reason, many sites offer tools to help a member create an online identity. Indeed, in communities like Facebook, identity and networking are the whole reason to be there!
Identity and privacy: The trick is to find a balance between introducing yourself and giving away crucial information that could be used without your knowledge. Keep this balance in mind as you start filling out your various member profiles. For example, Yahoo! might ask for your income level, but instead of giving the real answer, you could choose “other” and not provide this information. Other no-nos: address, phone number — you get the idea.
Another way to make your decisions is to ask yourself if you would give this information to a stranger on the bus. If not, don’t put it online. (Unless you’re one of those people who tells their life story to strangers. In this case, this wouldn’t apply to you. Also, please go sit over there.)
On the other hand, many of the things about you that will help you be real and interesting to others are fine to share: favorite books, special hobbies, that restaurant you go to every Wednesday, the ridiculous thing your cat just did, or the quotes that inspire you. As you get more comfortable online, it’s likely that your idea of what you want to share will change.
What you’re about to click on is a link to a Prezi presentation. What’s a Prezi? It’s a presentation tool that allows you to follow the text as it moves, turns, and zooms. If you haven’t used it before, here’s what you do:
- Click on the Play button (in the box below) to start it.
- Once the Prezi is loaded, click again on the “Play” button each time you want to move forward through the slides.
- When you get to the end and the Play button disappears, scroll down below the Prezi to get back to the class. That’s it! No, really that’s all there is to it. Enjoy.
Not working for you? Here are some Prezi alternatives:
- Are you using an iPhone, iPod or iPad? Download the free Prezi Viewer app and go to the Privacy and Avatars Prezi online, then return to this blog when you’re finished.
- Is the Prezi too zoom-y? You can also view the Privacy and Avatars Prezi as a PDF, which has no motion.
Why are they asking for my birthday? Probably because it’s the law. Really. COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, requires many types of social websites to know if someone is 14 years or under, so they will ask for your birthday.
If you don’t want to give out your birth year, try using one that is reasonably close to yours that you will remember. Just make sure it’s something you’ll remember! A lot of sites will use your birthday to verify your identity if you forget your password and have to reset it, so don’t outsmart yourself and use a fake birthday you’ll forget, or you could find yourself permanently locked out of your account. Drag.
No way! I don’t want to tell them anything.
If a service, community or tool is free on the internet, that site is probably collecting information on users in one way or another. Read their posted privacy statement where they tell you what they will and won’t do. If this data gathering bothers you, give as little information out as possible — you can always add more later if the service gains your trust.
If you want to be super-cautious about privacy, use an alias if it is allowed by the community (for example, aliases are not allowed on Facebook). You may not have to give out your real name or any personal information.
The bottom line: Share as little information about yourself as possible, especially crucial, factual information like birthplace and family names that banks and other sites use for authentication. You’ll probably also want to be careful telling any stories about yourself with identifying details (like, say, your boss’s real name and a description of the horrible hot dish he brought to the company pot luck. Yikes.)
You can have a lot of fun with your online identity and create an interesting online persona. Try it! You’ll see.
Let’s Do It!
Your avatar can also be:
- A book cover of something you enjoyed from your library’s online catalog (easy and fast)
- A photograph of something you drew or made yourself (easy if you have the photo already)
- An avatar someone else made (easy; however, picking one out can be time-consuming)
- A photograph of your pet(s) (easy if you have the photo already)
- An avatar from a free avatar maker (very fun, but time-consuming and the difficulty depends on the generator)
For the purposes of this project, you can use whatever you feel most comfortable to represent you online.
Make a Mini-Me
Get ready to play! Below are some fun avatar makers you can try. Pick one, or find your own!
This is one of the easiest to use, but you will also need the Flash plug-in. This generator will make urbanely retro images you can use for Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, or even a screensaver.
Face Your Manga: You will need to have the Flash plugin on your computer to make one (most do).
Time estimate: 20 minutes if you know what you want, more if you want to experiment. Difficulty: This interface is a little more difficult to use than the others; occasionally the notices are in Italian.
Now what? More information for the curious
Why do avatars matter?
One answer is that they’re fun. Do you have a blog? Do you play games online? What about a message board you enjoy? Do you want to try Twitter or Facebook? You can use an avatar in all of these places to amuse yourself and your friends.
Another answer is that avatars are a great way to make a personal connection with the people in your online community. Avatars help balance the anonymity of the web with active participation and interaction with people (or at least personas) you know well. When you invest a little of yourself in a group, you gain a stake in that group’s well-being, which in turn helps create a healthy, vibrant, beloved community.
More avatar generators and photo fun:
- Mess Dudes
- South Park style
- Yahoo! avatar (will only download to Facebook or Twitter)
- Wimp Yourself (note: the downloader is broken so you need to know how to do a screenshot)
- FD’s Flickr toys: This site includes ways to make a magazine cover, name badge, inspirational poster, and much more, with a photo of your own.
- Yearbook yourself: Upload a photo of yourself and this generator will adjust your photo to fit different time periods.
And many, many more!
So now that you all have an avatar (you did do the project, didn’t you? Excellent!), join us again next week, when we’ll be trying out Twitter!
Drop-in Sessions: get help or ask questions about these classes: Schedule.
Comments & suggestions welcome: Jenn and I welcome your comments about these classes! Comment in the “leave a Reply” form below or via the tech help comment form at: http://www.library.pima.gov/contact/tech.php