Encouraging users to add avatars to profiles

One of the things that has vexed me since launching bucketlist.org a few months ago is the fact that most users don’t enter any sort of profile information whatsoever – not even an icon/avatar to represent themselves. In fact, I did a quick query the other night and discovered that only 1/4 of users had set up an avatar. This realization was both surprising and disappointing to me — surprising because most users of other social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) go to lengths to make sure their profile info is complete and up to date. People on Twitter know that most people won’t even bother following people who don’t have personal icons.

Why was bucketlist being viewed differently by its users? And what could I do to encourage users to add profile info, or at least images of themselves?

One problem, I realized, was that the default avatar I was using on the site to represent avatar-less users was too bland. It didn’t bother users to be represented like this:

Toyed briefly with the idea of replacing the generic icon with something ridiculous, to motivate people to change it as soon as possible. But I don’t want to annoy or embarrass users. Also contemplated using some kind of Ajax-y banner thing to gently remind users to set up an avatar. Then it hit me last night – I don’t have to show the same image to everyone – why not do it like this:

if showing a bucketlist or goal whose owning user has an avatar, show that
if showing someone else’s list or item with no avatar, show the usual generic avatar
if showing your own list or item and you dont have an avatar, show something else

This trick replies on a bit of psychology – since the user probably assumes that everyone sees their lists and items with same icon they’re currently seeing, there’s a strong incentive to change it. Here’s what I came up with, based somewhat on a similar approached used for new Twitter accounts:

The other difference is that, while most avatars on the site link to the item owner’s main list page, this one links to the user’s own profile editing page. I suspect that part of the problem was that many users just didn’t notice or care that they even could edit their profiles, despite the presence of a giant “Edit Your Profile” button. Now there’s no mistaking the option.

After a week with this system, we found little to no increase in the number of users adding avatars to their profiles, so I upped the ante a bit by throwing up a friendly splash screen when the following conditions were true:

  • User has been logged in for three minutes
  • User is currently adding an item
  • User has no avatar
  • User has not yet been “nagged”

After two weeks with this system in effect, I crunched some numbers (using querysets in the Django ORM) and discovered that the new “nag” system raised the percentage of users adding avatars from 24% to 33% – a measurable difference, but still nowhere near the increase I was hoping for.

I’m not willing to nag any more than that – the real key is getting users to see the site as a social site, not just a personal list repository. I think deeper integration with social networks will make a greater difference.

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