As you have probably realized, the user icons were broken repeatedly over the last weeks. I was using an external service to get the icons. I now re-wrote the system to get them directly from Mojang themselves. The advantage is that the old service provided default icons when something did not work. When going directly to Mojang, I can check when a single user’s skin was updated the last time, compare that to the date of the skin on the server here and only update if it actually changed.
We will be downloading skins for users who join us the first time as soon as they login and everyone else once a day to keep the requests to Mojang at a reasonable level. Also, we currently do not (yet) render the overlays like helmets and so on. This might come later.