Egg Timer: The History of Twitter’s Default Profile Pic

Microsoft Twitter Account with o_O default profile pic - 2007

Ah, Microsoft, with their merry band of 9 Twitter followers, back in late 2007. At the time, as was the case with Google’s Twitter, the Microsoft account was ‘parked’, showing a distinct air of: “We might give this a go in the future“, and sporting Twitter’s once familiar sight of the classic o_O default profile pic.

But the o_O was not the first default avatar used for Twitter’s profiles. Let’s go back to the beginning – or as near to the beginning as I could get, and have a look at the full history, starting with the default profile pic in use during 2006…

Google Twitter Account with 2006 Default Profile Pic

THE SILHOUETTE FIGURE: 2006 TO AUTUMN 2007

In the above vision of the @google account (not the one in use today), you can see the default profile pic which characterised the very early days of Twitter. It’s a decidedly business-orientated and generic avatar, showing a human silhouette, in turquoise. This avatar remained the default well into 2007, and looks to have been replaced by the o_O around early autumn of that year – probably September.

THE o_O: AUTUMN 2007 TO AUTUMN 2009

The simple image used for the next default avatar was a blue-on-brown o_O sign, and this rather drab vision persisted as the standard representation up until mid September 2009. The o_O symbol is a text emoticon, roughly translating to a raised eyebrow.

THE BIRD: SEPTEMBER 2009 TO SEPTEMBER 2010

At the beginning of autumn 2009, Twitter introduced a range of seven new default avatars – bird logos in varying colours, to coincide with other updates to the site.

The base colours used for the birds were exactly the same as those used for the first seven in the subsequent egg series – except for the light blue bird, whose HTML base colour was #B6D6E8, rather than the #AAD3E6 used for the equivalent egg. The birds can look slightly different in colour from the eggs, but that’s because there was a light ‘bloom’ added around each bird, which didn’t feature on the egg avatars. A typical protected account from mid 2010 is depicted below, showing the default bird avatar.

Protected Twitter Account with Default Bird Profile Pic in May 2010

The 2006 to 2009 default profile pic progression can be seen below, with the 2006 silhouette figure on the left, followed by the 2007-2009 o_O, and then the 2009 range of coloured birds extending to the right, in order of their 0-6 numerical coding.

Twitter Default Profile Pics 2006 to 2009

Even after the bird avatars were introduced, the o_O remained available for use, and in fact it wasn’t removed from the site until January 2011. That was actually after the bird avatars, which were disabled in early autumn 2010.

THE CLASSIC EGG: SEPTEMBER 2010 TO AUTUMN 2016

The default egg profile picture/avatar may seem like it was with us forever, but actually, it wasn’t even announced until September 2010, when a massive upgrade changed the face of Twitter. The site was transformed from a pretty basic and cumbersome-to-navigate text utility, to a much more intuitive environment with support for images and video, endless scrolling, etc. With that transformation came the new default profile pic: the egg, replacing the bird.

The new egg continued Twitter’s bird theming, and was thought to signify the ‘unhatched’ state of a new profile. The birth of the account involves adding a real profile picture, which leaves behind the egg.

The Twitter egg came in a wider range of colours than the bird, running to double the number of shades – 14 in all. But rather than being numbered 1 to 14, or 0 to 13, the eggs were originally divided into two sets, each hosted on a different subdomain on twimg.com. Both sets were numbered from 0 to 6. I’ve compiled a chart showing the full range, in order, with their sequence numbers and their HMTL colour values. The chart appears below.

Twitter Egg Profile Pic Colour Chart

THE ‘STICKY EGSS’ OF AUTUMN 2016

In autumn 2016, Twitter surreptitiously sneaked in a new range of default profile pictures. Once again, they were eggs, but all except one (the grey one) was different from the previous selection. The new set resided on another subdomain of twimg.com, entitled “sticky”. I’m therefore dubbing these new profile pictures the “Sticky Eggs”. Again, the set was numbered 0 to 6. Here’s the set…

twitter-sticky-eggs-2016

The egg had remained the default for Twitter profiles since 2010, and had become synonymous with the site. Whilst this post celebrates the egg and its variants, there was not much respect for it among typical Tweeps. The egg was associated with inferior profiles, low quality feeds, and trolls.

There’s plenty of substance behind those notions, but not all egg profiles were bad. Quiet users who prefer not to tweet and just want to read may see no point in ‘becoming a personality’, and will be happy to leave their default picture in place indefinitely. And in my view, default egg profiles were generally a much more interesting read than your average ‘marketing’ account, fronted with the face of a grinning ‘maven’, but entirely run by a bunch of basically useless apps. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

THE ‘GENDER BALANCED FIGURE’ OF SPRING 2017

Less than 24 hours before the onset of April Fools Day 2017, Twitter ended a six and a half year reign for the egg default. The month of March ’17 had already seen the platform taking its most aggressive steps yet to shake off its widespread association with trolling and irresponsible user conduct.

Unfortunately, the default egg had become synonymous with trolling and thus was, in itself, contributing to Twitter’s image problems. Here’s how Twitter addressed the issue…

Introducing the ‘Gender Balanced Figure’. On 31st March 2017, this deliberately uninspiring vision became a standardised replacement for the selection of ‘Sticky Eggs’ that preceded it. Critics have interpreted the move as Twitter saying:

“We don’t care about the actual trolling, but we care about our image, so let’s eradicate the symbol of the troll”.

But Twitter’s own rationale seemed to centre more around motivating users to upload their own avatars…

The eggs were brightly coloured. They could be seen as aesthetically attractive. They’d become a social media icon. There was a suggestion that many users LIKED their egg avatar. As a result, the number of people hanging onto their default pic, because they had no motivation to upload anything else, was perhaps higher than it needed to be. The attractiveness of the egg, versus its negative associations, had created a nightmare situation not only for Twitter, but also for a lot of unwitting users. For every new account opened, Twitter was saying: “Hi. Here’s a pretty badge. Wear it until you get round to making your own”. But what new users often weren’t aware of, is that their badge also carried the words: “Block me! I’m probably a troll“. If an image has gained a negative association, it’s unfair to distribute that handicap to new users.

If the introduction of the dreary, grey, Gender Balanced Figure motivates more users to upload a personalised image, it will have done its job. And judging by the number of people who’ve ironically replaced the GBF with a commemorative egg, the GBF is increasing the motivation for users to customise their profiles.

  Author: Bob Leggitt

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