Automattic intend to upgrade the avatar size to 128 x 128
The word “import” is confusing, better to say “use”…
Didn’t one of the avatar plugins have gravatar support already?
I think there is indeed a gravatar for bbpress plugin but I like the more developed avatar plugin by Louise Dade.
A locally cached copy of a gravatar is always better than relying on the remote copy, even with the enhanced WP speed. Perhaps Louise’s can show the remote gravatar and give the member the option to use it as the default local. I’ve got a very large blog using gravatars and polling for a couple thousand members is a serious load issue with gravatars.
Then there is the issue of universal avatar support across bbPress<->WP which I don’t quite have working yet, I have to look at what other people have done.
In any case this is a good move for gravatars. But I simply cannot believe they built something with Ruby on Rails and were hoping to scale it for millions of users though. That’s going to have to be changed radically.
I don’t really see what the difference is between “local” and “remote” gravatars, they are all remote to end users. I would suspect the changes by Automattic to the serving will be somewhat better than you imagine. Gravatar used to run from two servers, Automattic have a fair few more than that I believe, plus better caching setups. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but it would be a shame to add options like local caching on top of the simplicity of the Gravatar idea.
As for the Ruby on Rails issue. I’m not 100% sure that the actual Gravatar serving uses Rails, it does use Ruby though. Ruby can scale, it’s just a little less used than PHP and I think it takes more resources to do it. There are a few scaled Ruby on Rails apps out there that are much more complex than Gravatar too, I’m thinking of the ones made by 37signals for example.