I described one of my friends as being exactly like her avatar.
Her little 48 x 48-pixel photo features her wry smile and the kind of glasses you wish you wore. It conveys her mien of earnest, disappointed cheerfulness that brightens the lives of everyone she knows. Her avatar captures her perfectly.
How rare is that? Not only do few of us look like our avatars on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, few of us even know what our avatars are supposed to do. Generate interest? Radiate professionalism? Spark a smile?
The avatar is our post-post-everything combination of a logo, a business card, a wallet-size photo, and a refrigerator magnet. It's a distillation, your essence in an image that flashes for a second and takes up a tiny fraction of a screen that is itself smaller than a candy bar. "This is me," it says. "It's the size of the nail on your pinkie, but it represents my soul."
My friend chose what you might fall the winsome approach, and it suits her. But the web abounds with other choices not nearly so successful. "Mugshot Modern" seems always to show an expression not nearly as fetching as people think it is, though it outperforms "Ironic Me," which is usually ironic for much different reasons than its users think it is. For my own avatar I've chosen "Someone Drew Me Once," which works for those of us who just don't look good in photos, but it doesn't convey much. Actual logos can work, if you can figure out what they mean, though I rarely can. More intimate avatars -- "Look at My Children," say, or "Here Is My Kitty" -- barely merit discussion.
In fact, if there's any theme among avatars it's that they betray more of our fears than our hopes, which makes my friend's successful avatar even more of a treat. I'll have to tell her about it.
If I ever see her in person.