What is Identicon?

Word identify has two meaning:

  1. Establish or indicate who or what (someone or something) is.
  2. Recognize or distinguish.

I chose the name Identicon with second meaning in mind to convey that Identicons’ intended applications are in helping users recognize or distinguish textual information units in context of many.

Textual Data Problem

Human eyes have evolved to recognize individual objects out of a group by noticing visual differences. Unfortunately, textual data are visually similar.

While many different typographic features and techniques have been invented since writing was invented, most of them are for free-form text. Additionally, list and table text layout lack the irregular features free-form text have, like line ends and paragraphs, to use as landmarks.

Icon Solution

Icons do add the necessary visual differences to textual data. Only problem is that icons are typically designed by hand or, in case of avatars, photos or pictures have to uploaded.

Identicon = Generated Icon?

One might say Identicons are simply generated icons. The first implementation of Identicon used salted hash of IP address to generate 9-block colored icon for each blog commenter. Most popular use of Identicon today remains generated iconic avatars.

I think it’s a bit more. Certainly, generated part is required. But the icon part is unnecessarily restrictive unless colored circle or box can be called an icon.

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2 Responses to What is Identicon?

  1. Josh Davis says:

    This is great Don. You make a good point about the visual here as well as in the Identicon/QR post. I especially think it’s interesting that the mathematics determine the visual. There is a vast amount of possible combinations visually for the 9 blocks, but that amount must be finite, correct?

    If there are ~16.7 million possible RGB color values times however many different options there are for each of the nine blocks, we’re talking hundreds of trillions of possible Identicons, right?

  2. donpark says:

    Limit of possible combination depends on the chosen visual presentation method. Infinite visuals are possible but practicality must be considered. However, I think focus on possible combination is misplaced because the goal is to ‘recognize or distinguish’ which does not require global uniqueness but only sufficient uniqueness within application context.

    For example, first implementation of Identicon used IP address which is neither unique nor persistent but reasonably unique and persistent within the temporal context of comment-based conversation over a blog post.

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