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There’s been a few discussions related to avatars on Sphinn since the site launched in July. Among them were...

http://sphinn.com/story/4824
Avatar Optimisation in the Social Media Spheres
http://sphinn.com/story/5697
Sphinn Avatars: 2 Reasons to Clean ’Em Up
http://sphinn.com/story/3609
Stealing Avatars: Identify Theft 2.0

The past few weeks I’ve noticed an increased number of submissions receiving sphinns from users utilizing the generic avatar and while this isn’t news to the webteam and moderators at Sphinn, there are some interesting patterns that I felt made for a good SphinnCentric topic.

No doubt there’s more to one’s avatar than some people are paying attention to. I’ll dip into my own head (since I don’t have access to yours) and will share some of what goes on in my mind when scanning pages on Sphinn.

My Brain on Sphinn
Avatars I recognize: Trust, Familiarity, Friendship
I scan, I sphinn, I read. Some users have never let me down and continue to post topics I benefit from reading. A few have slipped in topics which resulted in my brain moving out of default and into a scan, read, sphinn mode.

Avatars I don’t recognize: New User, Less Active User, New Avatar of existing user
At some point everyone fell into this category which requires more work for my brain. I can tell you my brain has enough work to do. It doesn’t need distractions such as those brought about by avatars that have it wondering things like... is that a satanic symbol? What kind of animal is that? Is that really you?

On these posts, my eyeballs spend more time scanning, if they even get my attention. I check how many sphinns already, posted by, jump to (URL), and comments. Often I go to comments first. If a trusted avatar is in comments I find myself typically checking the post further with greater interest. I’ve also found myself recently checking "sphunn by" to see patterns of what groups (if any) are sphinning up particular posts.

Generic Green Avatars: Spam, Questionable Activity, Lack of Trust

I sense that my brain is not alone when it comes to the generic green avatars. I’ve gone to check on user profiles of those with generic avatars and I’ve noticed trusted sphinners recently doing the same. Activity on Sphinn is actually quite transparent if you take the time to utilize the various tools that are available.

Here is what two active top participants have to say about generic avatars...

"Get an avatar. The green badge just doesn’t cut it." - Tamar
"I don’t think I have ever voted on a submit with no avatar." - Lyndon

Accorded to some of the research I did, the words of these two, represent the thoughts of many in the community. I did find one story that received a sphinn from Lyndon. For those counting, that’s one out of 1215 current sphinns.

Making the Homepage
Users lacking a unique avatar have historically been rarely seen on the Sphinn homepage. If I calculated correctly, there are 25 topics listed per page. Of the past 500 topics to make it to the homepage, 12 were posted by someone using a generic avatar. Of those 12, 3 posts were from the same individual, mvandemar, who I suspect is a more recognized user than anyone else using the generic avatar. I’m lead to that conclusion by checking the Network page, mvandemar is the only "popular" sphinner using a generic avatar, to make it to the 1st page. I even reached a point where my brain associates generic avatar posts with the user mvandemar and I began checking "posted by:" to differentiate others from him.

Including mvandemar that is a homepage "Hot Topics" rate of .24%
Remove posts from mvandemar and the number drops to .18%

I believe we have established that using a generic avatar to submit sphinns is not the best of approaches if you’re wanting your topic to be on the homepage.

But what about users with generic avatars sphinning up stories? While it’s possible to have been completely innocent, there are more than a few posts that have made the homepage featuring 5 or more sphinns coming from users with generic avatars. To gauge this I took a look at a number of homepage posts, from earlier this week, of users that have been active in the sphinn community for 2+ months.

Some recent posts from the homepage...

chriswinfield
at time of this post had 21 sphinns (.00%)
0 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?"

jeffquipp
at time of this post had 39 sphinns (.29%)
1 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?" (it was mvandemar)

0thelisa
at time of this post had 54 sphinns (.55%)
3 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?"

qwerty
at time of this post had 43 sphinns (.46%)
2 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?" (1 was mvandemar)

Lyndon
at time of this post had 46 sphinns (.65%)
3 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?"

graywolf
at time of this post had 40 sphinns (.75%)
3 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?"

nowsourcing
at time of this post had 36 sphinns (.55%)
2 generic avatars when checking "Who Sphunn This?"

After checking dozens of posts, the pattern is similar in that there is an average of less than .5% related to users sphinning popular posts that utilize generic avatars. Try it for yourself, check some random posts that made it to the homepage and see how many users that have sphinned posts have generic avatars.

I’m going through some now...
3 out of 32
5 out of 56
2 out of 36
2 out of 41
4 out of 37
3 out of 40

Can we agree a pattern has developed?

"What do you do to undermine trust on social media like Sphinn? You use or create 10 new users some of with 0 votes and all of them with no avatars to vote your story up..." A comment by Sphinn user onreact regarding a post that hit the homepage which had 11 generic avatar sphinns.

To see if there are any identifiable patterns, I checked about a hundred different Sphinn profiles. I was impressed after checking nearly every profile on the network list, as nearly every profile followed a similar pattern. There was a randomness of sphinns by each user, for other users on the network. To view this for yourself, check any users profile on the network page and click on the sphinns tab. Typically you’ll see an assortmant of posts submitted by various users that have been sphunn. Check some profiles of users with generic avatars and you’ll likely see the same, except in a few cases. One particular pattern that stood out was as follows...

generic avatar
no info on user
no submits
no comments
39 sphinns (33 for a single sphinn user)

Based on my findings, and the quotes I’ve read from others, it’s likely in your best interests to differentiate yourself and create a unique avatar, rather than rely on the generic green badge. Not only will you improve your reputation on Sphinn thus increasing your odds of getting your stories on the homepage, you may also potentially improve the reputation of others, whose posts you are sphinning.

Now excuse me while I go learn about PageRank. :)
Comments28 Comments  

Comments

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from swags2804 2612 Days ago #
Votes: 3

Great post! :)

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from AndyBeard 2612 Days ago #
Votes: 3

Wow that took you far more time than some of my recent hits.A few people I know still use generic, I need to remind them to get that fixed.Many avatars also are not destictive enough just due to lighting, colors etc, and though faces add a human element, they have to stil be distinctive and recognisable with good contrast.

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from Gamermk 2612 Days ago #
Votes: 1

While this is a good post, isn’t it a little bit long?/start postGet an Avatar. /end postThat might have worked too ;)

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from SearchBuzz 2612 Days ago #
Votes: 2

"My Brain on Sphinn" --- too bad I can’t post an image along this quote!!  Nicely done Michael!

Avatar Administrator
from MattMcGee 2612 Days ago #
Votes: 2

Wow, Michael. I’m afraid to ask how much time you spent on this. Great work, though!

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from lasellers 2611 Days ago #
Votes: 1

[After 20 odd attempts to sign up for Sphinn I find myself still forgetting I can Sphinn-Up posts now. And even comment on them. Hmm.]As long as this post is :) you forgot ONE thing. Consistent and appropriate display names. My own use of "lasellers" for essentially every site on the internet is rather boring (to me). But I do it quite on purpose -- it makes it much easier to find further references to me on the intenet. If you have a different user/display name on each social site, it becomes a chore to determine if you’re the same person (using a consistant avatar helps here).Also, the choice of display name seems important. I now go by my actual name on socials (L.A.Sellers) because I want to project a more consistant serious image. But that’s just me. For some people, masquerading as a red cartoon crab may be more to their style. ;)This is on my mind because I have had some trouble looking up other sphinn members elsewhere online for this very reason.I suppose this all goes under the the title of self branding. And for some that’s not so important.

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from TimDineen 2611 Days ago #
Votes: 1

I noticed earlier that mvandemar updated his avatar - kinda...http://sphinn.com/user/view/profile/mvandemar

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from mvandemar 2611 Days ago #
Votes: 2

Thanks for noticing Tim. :)I even reached a point where my brain associates generic avatar posts with the user mvandemar and I began checking "posted by:" to differentiate others from him.Ok, honestly, I didn’t read this before I changed my avatar, I did it in response to tamar’s piece she wrote:http://sphinn.com/story/11229But now that I did, is it better? :)

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from planetc1 2611 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@swags2804: Thanks, Mick Jagger Avatar tells my brain "this person is cool."@AndyBeard: I had a long lunch, so yeah, couple of hours.@Gamermk: That would have been just too easy. Think about it though, people are apparently working hard to get their stories sphunn. Then we look at the data and see they’ve got about a one in 1200 chance of receiving a sphinn from someone like Lyndon. Not good odds.@SearchBuzz: That could  be a nice piece of linkbait... This is your brain. This is your brain on sphinn. Any questions?@MattMcGee: Thanks. Spent a couple of hours on the post, mostly because I was pretty fascinated by the patterns that had developed.@lasellers: I believe Lynden has a post on that somewhere. I’ll admit I’ve done a poor job of an organized effort across multiple platforms. Problem is for myself (and many others) is that I wear multiple hats. That’s an important topic for discussion in itself and a situation many of us, that are not purely marketers, face.@TimDineen: I noticed that too and as a result my brain will likely now see Michaels (mvandemar) new differentiated Avatar color and move back into auto trust mode.@mvandemar: my brain thanks you. :)

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from andrewsho 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

There’s another side to this post - Are You Held Hostage By Your Avatar?  E.g I used my avatar because I had used it on another social net and that led me to use it here because I felt like some people might recognize it and now there is no going back.  If I change my avatar do I cease to exist?

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from AndyBeard 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 4

I think you can certainly survive a change of avatar as long as you work on branding it a lot.

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from lasellers 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@planetc1: I think I actually saw that a few weeks back now that you mention it. Have to look for it later. Yes, having to have multiple faces does make the issue of what to do somewhat more non-obvious. Well.@andrewsho: Yea, that’s also a concern. The one I use I don’t particularly care for (it’s not like I hang out at marina’s a lot), but my S.O. likes it so.... I like yours actually. At least in small form. It looks like some kind of hip party is going on. :)I was thinking that if someone ever wanted to change their avatar that they’ve been using for a while across dozens of sites, they should do it it stages. A gradual two-month transform w/ a new frame every other week. (Kinda like the slowest semi-automated GIF in history. Or something.)

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from SamFreedom 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 1

WGF... you’ve done better.

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from leadegroot 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 3

nag, nag, nag - I had to wait for hubby to take a decent photo of me! That’s my excuse, and I am sticking to it ;)

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from andrewsho 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 1

lasellers - there is indeed a hip party going on here 24/7.  Very astute observation.  During my first year of business I had this theory that the crazier potential clients thought I was the more likely they were to hire me.  They might think that if this guy can be this strange and still get work he must be a genius.  Hence no haircut, shave and the non-stop party scene. It all worked very well until I decided it was time to take a shower :)

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from FredPeters 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Do you feel that my avatar is rememorable? 

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from HawaiiSEO 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Wow! - No link to a blog post. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen someone do that. Not a bad idea.

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from ryanol 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

While avatars do have good inherent branding qualities, am I the only one that thinks that they are also bad; in that they perpetuate the incestuous nature of SEO and the blogosphere in general.

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from lasellers 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@ryanol: ummm.... no. It’s just a form of visual branding. A helpful way to remember who is who and also standout (peacocking a bit). Then again, since I’m not really a "SEO insider" I may just not know what the heck you’re refererring to. ;)

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from lasellers 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@ryanol: or in other words ... as an "outsider’, no, can’t say the first thing I think of when I see any of your icons is a bunch of incestuous bloggers. (thinks about it). No, not at all.

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from ryanol 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

sorry I just get frustrated when this place is taken over with groupthink....(blogrush, pagerank, etc)my fantasy wordpress plugin would be one that when you press submit....summarizes your post, checks it against the blogosphere and then replies "post denied:value add not found"

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from lasellers 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@ryanol: not a problem. ... (hmm). ... You do realize that the programmer/engineer in me is threaded off a process in my head that is working at building your plugin. I’m on a mac right now. There’s a summarize feature built in which is rather handy at times. I’m sure there are open-source variants one could assimilate. Then you’d need some kind of linguist bashed hash... hrmm.... :)

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from lasellers 2610 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@ryanol: That does send me off thinking though ... for a new pagerank system, it would be (very) important to have a variable that does a linguist computation of the text to determine uniqueness. Hmm.

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from nsmseo 2609 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Great methodical and structured post - made me upload an avatar to my profile - it may not be my best effort but as my site is totally being redesigned at the mo thought it would help the online branding (kudos Andy). Some Sphinn posts deserve more than 1 vote.

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from planetc1 2609 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@HawaiiSEO: Thanks for noticing. There’s more to this community than the value of a link.

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from Eloi 2609 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Good stuff !! I like the reasearch and the data!

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from Gamermk 2609 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Now that mvandemar changed avatars that 1-1200 is more like 1-10000 ;)

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from jeffquipp 2609 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Good post Michael! Lots of work but really interesting. I’ll have a follow up posting to this later in the week where we’ve performed an actual experiment with different avatars to see which performed best at securing friends.

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