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The term hackergotchi originated when the fashion of blog aggregators hit the hacker community, hence the "hacker" part.
Jakub Steiner, a GNOME artist, had created several whole body cutouts that originally appeared on the Art.GNOME.org website. A couple of years later, Jeff Waugh launched Planet GNOME, a blog aggregator of GNOME programmers and contributors. Luke Stroven suggested that Jeff use the images created by Steiner with posts by those writers. Stroven then created a bunch of images that depicted the heads of people on Planet GNOME. Waugh coined the term hackergotchi after seeing the collection of heads Stroven created.
The "gotchi" part seems to be a reference to the Tamagotchi toy.
A hackergotchi is usually a head shot of the posting author, but other emblems, images or symbols representative of the blog owner are often used as well. A good gallery of them can be found at planet.gnome.org/heads.
Drop shadows 
The most commonly used form of a hackergotchi is a head shot of the author with a drop shadow behind it. The drop shadow was originally introduced to produce greater visual contrast and to allow it to have a larger appearance when the image was placed on a white background. This was done to further the end goal of making it easier for a reader to differentiate between feeds from different authors.
- GNOME Hackers - hackergotchis of the GNOME hackers
- Blog entry explaining a simple method of making a hackergotchi
- Another method of creating a hackergotchi
- Video demo of how to use the GIMP to make a hackergotchi. No sound, Spanish interface, 9:53. YouTube Version AVI Version
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