04 July 2010

Good hackergotchis for everyone

A good Planet blog aggregator, like our Planet Fedora is defined by its great content, and I am one of those who strongly believes great content is not only dry info about our work and press releases, but also personal things about the people lives: data about our pets, year long running self-portraits, game tips, movie reviews, mosaic covered drawings and so on (I may not be 100% on the same page with the board here, but I am a known felon). But the content by itself is just content and is provided by a large and distributed team, we at the Design Team can't, and should not try to influence it, what we can do is to improve the presentation.

Presentation-wise, we have a nice template that fits the look and feel of Fedora and we have those little graphics named "hackergotchi" which are ...not perfect. So that's the purpose of this article: talk about them, give a few hints about how they can be improved and show some examples.

A dry definition from Wikipedia sounds like this: "A hackergotchi is a picture of a writer used as an avatar to identify the author of a given web feed in blog aggregators" and also according to Wikipedia they were somewhat invented by Jimmac (BTW, I am still speechless in awe by the news about him joining Red Hat maybe is still hope for GNOME 3 to not become a turd?). In practice they are disembodied hacker heads floating next to one's blog post, to help identify and make a personal connection with the author.

Years ago I tried to improve their state and did what I was able to do: created a default icon for those who do not have an image, wrote a small tutorial about creating your own hackergotchi and created a wiki page where those who can to it themselves can place a request. I advertised those on Planet, but failed to do the next step: proactively contact people with bad, poor or unsuitable hackergotchis and inform them about their options. I suck.

Now I passed the hackergotchi maintenance torch to Pierros who, as a junior member of the Design Team needed an entry task so I can pretend to have an eldery status and make judgements on quality and pass advices. And be self pretentious.

From a technical point of view a hackergotchi is a small PNG image with transparent background, so it can work regardless of the page background, usually depicting the head of the person with no background and having a drop-shadow to make it stand-out better in the page. Historically I used to make them 96x96 pixels, people who did themselves used whatever sizes they thought of but recently Pierros proposed, and we agreed, to move to a new standard size, 120x120, which should be small enough to not alter the layout but large enough to give a better image, so you can actually recognize the person when meeting face to face. Also, when cutting your face on the contour, leave out your neck or body.

From an artistic/photographic point of view you need a good photo: as the image is supposed to represent you, it must show your personality, so don't use photos like they are used for your passport/id card/driver license, use something to show your soul. Try to take the photo with a good camera, using the crappy one made with your cell phone may be usable if you have the perfect light, get a lucky angle and the stars are aligned, but most of the time not even the most experienced GIMP wizard will have a hard time with it and the result will not be great. When taking the photo is a good idea to use a plain, seamless background so the work is easier and if your hair is curly, fluffy or long to have it hung together (you know how hard is to cut the hair's contour?).

If I scared you with the instructions above, here is the sugar-coating: we have a service where the Design Team will do the work for you if you provide an image! Go to our ticketing system and put a new request, select "hackergotchi request" as the type at the top of the ticket and attach or link to a photo (please, see above what is a good photo).

At the latest IRC meeting, when I was tasked with this article we considered a good addition would be a list of examples of good hackergotchis, but as the creator of many of those images I wanted to avoid bias, so Mo helped me with a list with what she consider good samples (I don't necessarily agree with her selection), which I will try to comment and highlight the strong points, so here we go:

hackergotchi for this one I do like the shooting angle, is good and it made the cutting work easier and I like his smile, however, I don't like his eyes being so closed, I don't believe this is his personality (IIRC, it was a beach photo and the sun was "guilty" for that).

hackergotchi this one is great and it was made by the user himself: the photo is very sharp, made probably with a good camera, the smile is telling a lot and the hat used to tell its part of the story.

hackergotchi warm smile, good angle = good hackergotchi

hackergotchi here you can see the result of using a good camera, however not knowing him in person can't say how representative the smile is. I acknowledge my GIMP'ing mistake, should have cleared a bit more below the ear.

hackergotchi very sharp image, easy to work with and a huge smile, showing a person you would want to work with too.

hackergotchi good original angle, good GIMP work for cutting, it could have used a bit more sharpening

hackergotchi this one also suffers IMO from the lack of sharpness, maybe GIMP can help, otherwise is great: the angle, the posture, the diffused light.

hackergotchi another warm smile, another hackergotchi made "by the book".

hackergotchi this one is close to perfection: good photography (sharpness, light), good posture, big smile. Only a few pixels at the chin could have been softer (why do you think we use drop shadows? to make those pixels less visible!)

hackergotchi I would have not included this one as a "good" example: it to flat, the camera used was not great (look at the hair) and the background is white, not transparent. But he has a good smile, which makes a lot.

hackergotchi great one, the angle tells a whole story, that's someone you don't want to miss with.

hackergotchi if you know Pierros, you know his smile. Still, I had a lot of troubles with this, his black hair is held with a black band and it was really hard when GIMP'ing to understand which is which.

A closing conclusion? Yeah, is the time, I feel like I already bored everyone: rules? yes, they are usually good, but when you have a vision, forget about them, go crazy and show the real you. And take all I said with a grain of salt, after all I am the one using currently as hackergotchi the drawing below:

Update: Jef just provided a template small howto for adding badges to your hackergotchi, adding the link as it is an useful reference.


  1. Great post. There have been some truly bizarre and on some occasions quite scary hackergotchi's on aggregated sites and feeds recently, having someone clearly state a defined set of parameters for them was much needed. Appreciate you doing this!

  2. I agree with you.

    Although having a cool hackergotchi isn't easy, at least there should be a guideline to avoid absurd oversized avatars that mess the planet layout.

  3. Is not easy but is not difficult either, it can be a good learning experience and a compelling intro to GIMP for someone interested.

    We understand not everybody want or can edit images, so this is why we are providing the service - I have some experience already and if provided with an acceptable image, for me is about 5-10 minutes of work.

  4. Cool post! :)

    I'll probably add another post to the Planet about the Hackergotchi Ribbons later tonight or tomorrow. I'll let you know when I do, maybe you could add a link here?

  5. @Schendje: we should probably also link to all this stuff from somewhere in the wiki so the info is easier to find.

  6. @Nicu: yep, definitely. We should discuss that at the meeting or on the mailing list. :)

    Here's my blog post: http://jefsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/introducing-hackergotchi-ribbons/

  7. @Schendje: post updated with your link, thanks

  8. At the Marketing FAD, Henrik and Russell brought their cameras and set up a nice portrait booth - I'd love to see that at the next FUDCon! I think we have at least one (if not many more) photo enthusiasts in each geo...

  9. @Mel: definitely! and the "portrait booth" is just a clean, white wall (ideally it would have also at least 2 light sources, but I won't carry my gear on the plane,is heavy and fragile)