I heard the line “it’s all about the faces” from someone in the past few weeks. The line stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Last night I tried an experiment and changed my twitter avatar to a graphic done by Anthony Dimitre, a really talented local designer. While there was plenty of positive feedback, there was also a lot of “I don’t like it” feedback, including the tweet “i think the avatar makes you seem less accessible than a normal pic” from @joshpayne.
While I like the avatar that Anthony made for me, Josh’s comment rang true and I changed the avatar back to the photo I’ve been using. Now, I might need a new photo (or a new face for that matter), but that’s a different issue. When I think about my experience on the web, there is no question that photos make people feel more real and accessible.
When I got my iPhone, I started taking quick pictures of my friends and family and adding these pictures to their contact record. These photos got synced with Outlook and ended up in the top right corner of my emails from these folks (in addition to showing up on my phone whenever they called me.) This was cool, but it forced me to take pictures of people and go through a convoluted UI experience to get the pictures associated with their contact record.
Even though this was a lot of extra work, the power of the photo matters. I’m happier when I see Amy’s picture pop up on my phone. Or, when my partner Jason calls me, I remember our great dinner at Uchi in Austin a few months ago (his photo was taken in front of the sign late at night.) When I ponder the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and reflect on the early coolness of MyBlogLog, the power of the photo seems very real.
This hit home with me during the most recent two week iteration for Gist. I get the new features between one and two weeks before everyone else (they do a release every two weeks) and there’s been an awesome new one that has appeared. If a contact record appears without a photo (I guess II should call it an avatar), I have a chance to add a new image from a Google search. Suddenly, between the data Gist imports from Facebook, Twitter, and the photos it is finding for me on the web, many of my most recently used contacts have photos that appear whenever I interact with them. I have a real, positive emotional response to this.
Now, this data isn’t yet syncing back with my email contact list, so I’m only seeing it when I either go into Gist or open up the Gist Dossier in Outlook. That just makes it even more noticeable that it’s missing from within my inbox (which is my most actively used form of communication.) But – that’s just a matter of time.
As the social web continues its extraordinary growth, “faces” seem to be a small, but critically important part of it.