Make Your App Interesting With Unique Avatars

Adam DuVander
Jan. 20 2010, 04:18PM EST

Nothing on a social website gets old faster than looking at the default avatar. That's the square graphic meant to represent a user who hasn't uploaded a photo. There's nothing to be done about this, right? Think again: there's an API that can give all your users a unique graphic.

ProgrammableWeb Retro AvatarRetro Avatar is an incredible easy API to use (see our Retro Avatar API profile). All you need to do is put in a URL some text for the service to use as a seed to create the graphic, which will look like something from Atari video games (hence, retro).

A graphic seeded with "ProgrammableWeb" is included in this post, or you can see it directly. You can also get results as JSON.

What should you use to seed the avatar? An email address or a username will be able to ensure that every user will have a unique avatar. And that's what we're after here, right? Death to the default avatar.

On a technical note, Retro Avatar runs off of Google App Engine (our Google App Engine API profile), a platform to run web apps on Google's infrastructure.

Adam DuVander Hi! I'm Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and former Executive Editor of ProgrammableWeb. I currently serve as a Contributing Editor. If you have API news, or are interested in writing for ProgrammableWeb, please contact Though I'm a fan of anything API-related, my particular interest is in mapping. I've published a how-to book, Map Scripting 101, to get anyone started making maps on websites. In a not-so-distant past life I wrote for Wired and Webmonkey.