Learn More: Avatars

[This is the first in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Let’s start our wandering with a little fun. Let’s create a few avatars.

We exist as flesh and blood in the real world, but we don’t transmit that way in the digital world of the Internet. It could get kinda messy. Instead, we can adopt a digital form better suited to an online environment and one that our friends will learn to recognize as us. That form is an avatar.

Avatar comes from a Sanskrit word. In Hindu philosophy, a supreme being normally exists in a form incomprehensible to us. When that being descends to earth, it appears as an avatar so we mortals can better relate. The concept is similar with us and our avatars of the cyberworld.

Avatars come in many styles. Some are simple cartoon-like drawings (like the Simpsons figure, left) that users of the social web place on their personal pages. Others are photographs (like abchick‘s buddy icon, right) or three dimensional animated figures within a virtual world or online game. Whatever the form, though, your avatar becomes “you”. When your friends see your avatar likeness, they’ll know it’s you. Even if you adopt a penguin as your avatar, people will become accustomed to thinking of you when they see the penguin. Why? Because that’s your avatar; that’s you…in this world.

The term “buddy icon” is often used interchangeably with avatar, by the way.

Meaning for libraries

The social web is populated by avatars. Many of your patrons likely use and see them regularly. Some – don’t laugh – may want to freshen up their online appearance as often as (or more often than) they change their real world look. That may mean posting a new or doctored photo. They might appreciate a photo editing tool on public workstations and simple file uploading abilities. If the library can’t provide such basic conveniences, they just might find another place to work, play, and interact. Ouch.

If your library is venturing into the social web, you might want a library avatar. Most of the library avatars I see on Flickr are logos or building photos. That’s advancing the brand. It’s also corporate. I’d like to see something more fun: something professional, of course, but maybe a bit more human. Anyone have ideas? Please share!

Learn more by participating

Let’s make a few avatars of the cartoon variety this week. (We’ll probably look at photo and virtual world avatars — as well as upload avatars to social sites — in the weeks to come.)

  • Set aside time (10-15 minutes might do the trick) on at least two different days this week.
  • On the first day, create an avatar from one of the sites listed below. This is just for play. You might need to print or do a screen capture if you want to save your creation.
  • On another day, make an avatar in a different style or mood. Experiment, design, play.

Do you like The Simpsons, South Park, or Harry Potter? Make yourself into a character from those series. Start with a basic body and click the onscreen tools to change hair, face, and clothes. Must your avatar resemble you? Not at all! Make it resemble what you feel like. Do a Google search and discover other avatar styles (e.g., anime).

If you already have a Yahoo! account, log in here and fiddle with even more avatar-generating tools. Yahoo! has gadgets that let you customize skin tone, wardrobe, accessories, and backgrounds with endless possibilities. Since it’s tied to a member account, it can also travel with you into other Yahoo! services.

Have fun!

One Response to Learn More: Avatars

  1. Nancy Dowd says:

    Thanks for the posting. I’ve ben wanting to share the avatar concept with my coworkers and this is a perfect way to start. -Nancy

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