Blog Post

Move over MySpace, Gaia Online is here

By the middle of last year, it was attracting half a million unique visitors monthly; fast forward to last month, and that number is two million. It’s not a traditional MMO like World of Warcraft; it’s not a social game like There; it doesn’t originate from Europe like Habbo Hotel or from Asia like Cyworld. You haven’t heard of it partly because the San Jose company has kept a low profile.

Another reason you’re still likely in the dark: it’s primarily designed for teens. But with online worlds all sizes and styles poised for an explosion, you’ll almost certainly hear a lot more about it soon.

It’s called Gaia Online, and as a guy on a giant crane behind us tore down the giant Web 2.0 conference banner in Moscone West, I had a chance to sit down with CEO Craig Sherman— formerly COO with, and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Benchmark Capital, a main funder of Gaia— for a furious round of questioning. How did Gaia grow so large so quickly so stealthily?

“The world’s fastest growing online world hangout for teens.”

That’s the way Sherman and his team prefer to characterize Gaia, the brainchild of Studio XD, a comic art firm which gave the site its anime-influenced look. Gaia’s online world aspect (which launches in a separate Java-powered window) is a series of virtual towns where Gaian avatars can socialize (up to 100 in a single space), with apartments they can own, and treasures they can find. (No combat, however.) It’s just that 10% of total user activity takes place in the world itself.

Gaia’s Many Experience Channels

The world is just a conduit to the larger activity on Gaia, says Sherman: in addition, there are website arenas where users can upload and rate each other’s artwork and other content (7-10% total activity), or play multiplayer Flash mini-games with group chat (10-15% total activity.) The largest cohort of activity (wholly 30%) takes place in the Gaia forums, and here’s where the truly staggering numbers come in: Averaging a million posts a day and a billion posts so far, Gaia’s message boards (with topics running the gamut from pop culture to politics) is second only to Yahoo in popularity.

Gold for Activity

A unique innovation is the way the company distributes its virtual gold currency: instead of selling it for real money (as with There) or allowing its trade on the open market (as with Second Life), Gaians are automatically given gold for participation: You get gold for posting on the Forums, for riding events, for uploading content, for exploring the world. Subscribers are rewarded for engaging in Gaia, in other words— and the reward incents them to engage in Gaia even more.

Gold for Auction

With the gold, Gaia subscribers can buy items, clothing, and accessories for their avatars, some sold by the company, but most of it sold via Gaian-to-Gaian auction. (They estimate some 52,000 auctions are completed every day.)

What pays in Gaia, however, stays in Gaia: the company strongly discourages real money trading, and works with Ebay to curtail it. That’s not to say Gaian treasures haven’t been sold online. “One item sold for $6000,” says Sherman. “Wonderful to tell you, but bad for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Gold— for Gaia Interactive, Inc.

Instead of monthly subscriptions, Gaia Online sells “rare items”— treasures, fantastically cool fashion accessories for player avatars, and so on— two offered a month for $2.50 each. Subscribers buy them via credit card, Pay Pay, cellphone—or cash on the barrel. (“We employ someone full time whose job is getting dollars and quarters” out of envelopes kids send them, Sherman notes.)

… but first, a world for our sponsors

The company’s other revenue source are ad campaigns created to run within the world of Gaia. Before launching these, Sherman says, they solicited subscriber feedback, to find out which potential advertisers they wanted to see in the world— and which they didn’t. (Cool fashion brands got the majority nod; big American auto companies, however, didn’t.)

Staffers work with advertisers to create, not passive billboards, but an extended immersive experience. Gaia’s campaign for New Line Cinema’s fantasy adventure The Last Mimzy, for example, challenged their users to accomplish a series of tasks in order to get their own special Gaian-only Mimzy (a super-intelligent bunny). Hundreds of thousands of these Mimzyies were given out—meaning some 10-20% of their total user base jumped through the hoops to win the advertiser’s prize. (By contrast, when Nissan began giving away virtual versions of their cars in Second Life, far less than 1% of Residents took them up on the offer.)

The Secret to Gaia’s Success

Craig Sherman has been thinking what the value-proposition of his site in the era of MySpace or Facebook. “In a world where teens are constantly branding and packaging themselves” on sites like those, he points out, “Gaia is where you get away from it all.”

Whether that remains the case when the competition reaches full roil remains to be seen, but for now, the Gaia seems destined to keep growing.

The Gaia Numbers: Demographics and Usage Patterns as of April 2007

300,000 log in daily, according to the company; average unique visit is two hours a day.

Average concurrency: 64,000 users. Maximum: 86,738.

85% of users are based in the US

10% are English-speaking but non-US (with 5% a nebulous Other)

Breakdown by gender: 55% Girls – 45% Boys

About 20% of subscribers put up their real life photo in their avatar profile.

Number of Gaia gold “millionaires”, as of last week: 1385

Images courtesy Gaia Online.

120 Responses to “Move over MySpace, Gaia Online is here”

  1. Anonymuos

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  2. Jonny J

    I disagree. As a long time user of this site, I think gaia is very innovative. The fact that there is so much of a vast virtual world is amazing. your comment of ‘I just tried it’ leads me to believe that you did not honestly experience it; it sounds like you briefly visited. There are so many points of this website, and you can’t explore them in just five minutes. It took me at least a week. there’s something there for everyone. I highly promote it, because I have made many friends, whom I would have never met in real life. gaia is very creative, and I think they should market it more. Also, it is a site for teens, not adults. next time you visit a community site, honestly explore, and get facts before you tell others how it is.

  3. yah gaia is amazing ive been playing it for years and my charter (da_milk_man) is prety cool i mostley help people new to gaia and so do many others…. so if you do you will have help starting up but the hardest thing is to earn money…. just make sure to “FOLLOW THE RULES” and you will have fun and meet friends just never meet them FTF (Face To Face)

    ….bye, and if you do start-tell me as my name is posted above

  4. I’ve been a member of Gaia for some time… Whenever it was when they released the Guitars of Demona and the Angelic Guitars (May of 04 or05).

    I stopped going about a year or so ago. Gaia is increasingly becoming overpopulated with idiots, and the admins never seem to give a damn (so long as they get their all-mighty donations). Becoming a forum moderator was more of a popularity contest than anything. The forums are full of sex-crazed CHILDREN (I’m talking like 12 freakin’ years old) who try to cyber anything that moves. Of course, with that kind of setting, pedophiles are drawn like flies, and infest Gaia like a plague.

    There was a decent place at Gaia where forum moderators actually did try to do more than their fair share of keeping the place clean, and that was the GCD (Gaia Community Discussion). That was my last bastion before I finally withdrew from the public forums into Guilds, and later from the site altogether.

    From what I hear, since my absence Gaia has become nothing more than a sellout, something we predicted (in our crazy conspiracy theory threads in the GCD) a long time ago. Can’t say I’m surprised, really. And I won’t be surprised when pedophiles cause the site’s ultimate demise at the hands of international authorities.

    (And jeebus, all these people there claiming to be “hacked” are nearly as bad as those claiming to know how to hack, heh.)

  5. I’ve been a member since early 2003. I’ve been through most (if not all) of the site layout changes. Gaia’s activities have indeed become more “corporate” for the sake of the almighty dollar. I only use the forums and a private guild occasionally to chat with some old friends.

  6. As a regular member of Gaia since Feb. 04, it’s obvious by your statistics that the forums are downplayed far too much than they should be. The games and Daily Chance didn’t used to always be there. Gaia as a whole used be marketplace, forums, art arena, and personals + the map and shops. It didn’t start getting fancy until about the middle of 05 and they’re still growing on everything.

    It’s just a shame that this site is registered as purely for kids, I’m 19 years old, and yes I was 15 when I first joined, but its still just as fun no matter the age group. I’ve met several people who are above the age of 21 who are just as interesting to talk to than anyone else, and very few children 13 years old who will actually act mature and understand the site wasn’t intended to have the flash games and cars and houses, they just happened.

    So please, give Gaia Forums more credit than 30%. People post so often in every forum, by the time you find a thread to post in, its probably already on the second page becuase so many other people are posting new topics.

  7. I have been a member of Gaia since 2k5 and it is a fun site with much to do, i think it is a wondeful safe place to hang out and feel that i have accomplished much in the years i have been a member, i wish there was a way to show more people about this great site :)

  8. i am also an adult member of gaia, i joined because my then 13 year old son spent alot of time on the site and as i always monitor his computer usage i was curious, i have a great time there.
    I will say that one persons comment above is WAY off, my sons account was hacked last year, he clicked a link and had his password stolen, everything he had was taken, i emailed Gaia from my account to let them know as soon as we realized it, I do regularly buy donation items etc. on the site. at first i got no response, then i contacted a mod that told me it could take up to 3 months for them to resolve the issue. Eventually i emailed the gaia site myself and explained, along with sending them a screen shot of the items my son had, thankfully he had taken one just days before he was hacked. Anyway, to make a long story a little short, we did get all items except game items back, (bugs, tires inks etc) and his account was given back.
    I did just discover tonight that there ARE some very explicit profile pages on the site even though most of the pics were anime, they are more explicit than allowed on most other sites allowing kids under 18. I have reported the two profiles i saw, and we will see if anything is done.
    Other than that, i love the site and think it does alot for the kids, it teaches them how to save to get what they want, and to watch how they spend their gold, how to market and sell their items or hold onto them until the market rises. all in a fun environment

  9. Dev Remming

    Ichi_the_neko/angie what you said is not actually true although it is wide known that many people on gaia get hacked what the admins say about not giving your password out is also true, they also say that you should change your password every week or so and make sure your password is unique and not something easy to guess.

    I myself have been around since november of 2003 and still on my first account ‘FallenDevil’ I have never been hacked, my friend Captin_Kion has also been here since early 2004 and has never been hacked either, and he has a long list of donation items that could easily make anyone rich.

    there are also many more people who have been around just as long and never been hacked.

    Ok now with that said I have been on gaia since late 2003, I am now 17 and still go to gaia everyday it seems to keep in contact with friends but truth be told I have been getting on less since about 2 years ago when i could sit infront of the computer from dawn to night just chatting or rping. Now I feel the site has truely lost its specialness.

    I think the truely flawed system although genous as well is the Market, to me the market just ended up making everything much more expensive, but it did cut time and the need to negotiate >.>


    something that the article should have talked about were the gaia events such as christmas events and halloween events, or even gaia inspired events such as the the gaia games or the water balloon fight.

  10. I myself have been a member of Gaia since november of 2005 and I’ve witnessed many changes throughout the site. The site seems to be more directed to younger kids, I did a poll in most of the forums and found that the average age of a gaian is between 13-18 years old. I personally think they should only let people join 13 or older.

    There is one problem I found with Gaiaonline though, and that would be password security.Many people (mostly rich gaians) get hacked almost everyday and most never get their accounts back. There needs to be a way in which no one can hack your account. Gaia says that if you don’t give out your password, then no one will hack you. Thats not true though because from experience I’ve had people hack me without even have given my password to anyone.


  11. yo u ppl gotta chill with the negative comments… seriusly. i mean… gaia CAN be boring/annoying/stuffed with n00bz sumj times but like… dude! lol i think its one of the BEST web sites EVER because you can meet ppl n just chill. But i TOTALLY agree with what you guys said about the n00bs n stuff ’cause theyre gettin on my LAST NERVES!… but there are good kinda n00bs too lol.

    like my cussin and hiz n00bishnes… but hes alright i gess.
    oh and one more think- THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH 12 & 13 YEAR OLDS!!!! seriusly… not ALL of them are childish/gangsta wanna-be/// what ever you think…
    and please contact me if ur a n00b (the GOOD kind any ways) your self lol ill be happy to help! (i kinda sorta in a way look like a n00b i gess. but only because my avatar is not HUGE and stuffed with mc’s like OTHER ppl’z around here >.>)

  12. Sunshine

    I’ve been on Gaia since 2005, and it’s really fun. What really annoys me though, like Nicki said, is the 12 and 13 year olds on there like “omg plz donate 2 mii bcuz i just got hacked!” Or whatever. About a half a year ago, they asked everyone their birthdays, so that helped get rid of a lot of that, because you used to be able to be 12 and older to get on gaia with your parents permission.

    The site is going downhill. Like some other people said, it could turn out like neopets. It’s a lot better that myspace. It’s not as dirty.

  13. chrisbrownloverzz

    omg gaia has been blocked by the schools i mean u can’t get on gaia at school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! oh and wats this thing that people get on others gaia profile their is a web site for this we need a new way to keep our stuff personal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! now

  14. Dakki-dono

    What I love about Gaia is that they really do care about the users. Lanzer (the creator of the site) is really down with us. They’d never sell it to wipe their asses with money. It’s so cool and under the radar because they don’t glue ads everywhere. They obviously don’t need to.

    Sure, the kids ruin it (I think 15+ as an age limit would do us wonders) but the older members and the friends you make are still worth it, even today.

    But as a devout Gaian myself, I must say that this is a rare, decent article but there really needs to be more about the forums.

  15. I joined just joined Gaia around this month, just in time for the awsome water balloon event! It was sooo fun. I absolutly love Gaia and don’t care what anyone says about it. It rocks!

  16. “I’m increasingly disgusted with how ‘kiddy’ and ‘give us your money’ oriented it’s becoming. The movie ‘quests’ are irritating, the inane 12 year olds flooding the boards are painfully omnipresent, and the developers love of doing anything to avoid giving us what they’ve been promising us for years (new layouts instead of a battle system, anyone?) are driving down the respect anyone over the age of 14 has for the site…It’s sad, but Gaia is going the way of Neopets.”

    I agree. I’ve been on for only a little over a year, but even over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of changes. My best friend has been on for about 3 years, and she’s told me how it used to be. I admit, I’m not over 18 (I’m 17), but it still irks me to see 12 year olds on there, many of which are constantly PMing me saying, “omg plz donate 2 me, im new and dont have gold,” yada yada yada. Honestly, they don’t know how easy they (and I) have it. My friend has told me how the main way they got gold was by posting. They didn’t have games, or most of the stuff we have now. sighs However, it’s not just the kids that bug me. The site is really selling out, and it’s sad. I still go on Gaia a LOT, but I so feel that it’s going slightly downhill. I agree with some of the other people here, and I feel that it’s likely that more and more of the older members will leave. People also complain about the noobs, and I don’t like them either, but they’re everywhere. Even though Gaia is going downhill, it’s still WAY better than Myspace…I’ve stopped going on that site actually. I admit, I do go on facebook though.

  17. I am a generally new member, and have been on Gaia for a mere four months now.
    Yet I must say it is much more addicting and challenging than any other online community I’ve ever been on.
    Myspace, Livejournal, Bebo, etc, have nothing against the way Gaia works. There is no need to paste photos, so members are not as shallow as they are on Myspace and Bebo, but there is much more interactivity in a text based environment than that of Livejournal or Xana. And the quests for special items for your Gaian avatar creates a connection for a Gaian user and its online self.
    Also, the fact that many younger people join gaia is true. I am 18, so I dont succumb to the childish disagreements these newer members fall in, and definetly agree that they are annoying. I believe that the administrators should enforce the age restriction.

  18. I loved the article, though I, like others, think the forum aspect was downplayed too much. As a member of Gaia since late October 2003, the forums were what got me hooked on Gaia–the people I met and became friends with.

  19. I am an adult (40+) Gaia member and have been on over a year. I originally joined to keep an eye on my daughter who wanted to be a member. I liked what I saw in the fact that the site actually encourages anonymity. I do not frequent the forums where the young kids hang out. I belong to guilds where there are other adults and we can hold conversations. It has gotten more commercial in the past year, but you can always opt out of the quests and events. It can still be entertaining.

  20. V from Gaia

    As a member on Gaia for almost 4 years, my reaction to this article and the comments following are mixed. In my opinion, Gaia is an awesome site, ever since I joined, I have gotten online almost every day, just to see what was going on. I’d have to say, Gaia was even better before it was self aware. At least for me, I enjoyed myself a whole lot more when I could get on, dress my avatar, run about the forums and maps, and participate in the events if there were any. Now it’s a painful reminder this is a website, and reality is always knocking on the door, everytime there’s an announcement about some silly quest. I would like to put it better than that, but I hope you understand what I mean anyway. At any rate, I would tell anyone about Gaia, though chances are, there are very few that would give it a second glance these days.

  21. Gaia really is spiraling down. For the people who have played it since the beginning it has been commercializing. The forums have altered horribly too. I’m lucky to login and not see a topic about sex, drugs, alchohol, violence, emos or someone claiming they got hacked.

    And everyone who says Gaia isn’t crap, either you’re in denial or you haven’t been playing for all that long.

  22. Jiang Lan

    I’ve been a gaian for four years now and I can say for sure that this is the best web community that I’ve ever been a part of.
    Gaia is not going to “sell out” like other web communities. What makes it so special is that the users do have some say in what happens on Gaia. Normally we are consulted in some way to see how we feel about events and the general function of the site.
    Gaia was not EVER supposed to be for children. We do have a great number of younger players but they are overshadowed by the majority population which is around 16+ I believe.
    This is not a site for the immature as anyone will find out with an in depth visit. It may be anime flavored but anime was never intended for the younger set either. Pokemon and Samurai Champloo are two very different things.
    We pride ourselves on being able to carry on meaningful conversations as well as the normal web chatter.
    The people who review Gaia and comment should not be biased when they go there. To begin with, you have to enjoy a forum based experience or you’ll never even give Gaia a chance. Spend a little time there and make some friends. There are topics for everyone and if not, make your own. If it’s not for you…leave. It’s free so you’re not trapped in any way. We would rather have people leave if they don’t enjoy it instead of polluting the forums with their negative comments. I am proud to be a gaian and I think with the right attitude anyone can enjoy it.

  23. Anonymous

    Snort I’ve been a member of Gaia for over two years. And have come and go even before then. Loads of pixel obsessed wannabe dedicated members will gladly sit here and proclaim how “great” Gaia is, but the truth is that this site is one of the worst out there.

    From an administrative staff that flat out doesn’t listen to it’s community, to a community full of scammers, cheaters, liars and outright idiots, to a staff of moderators that either don’t do their job or allow their friends list to influence how their job is done, the list of cons greatly outweighs that of the pro.

    The site itself is driven soley at gaining more money and comes across a one big greedy mass corporate lie. From “monthly collectables” that can only be purchased with real cash, to a store full of overpriced worthless crap that one would see at your local mall, to “gift credits”.. now named “cash”.. points that you can buy with real money instead of earning gold.

    The site itself is full of pixelated items to play dress up with your big headed, poorly drawn avatar. But to obtain them means spending hours on end to earn enough gold to obtain what you want. And with the lovely way they make gold earning decline over time, it means spending even more time on the site.

    But it gets even better.

    Let’s hear about the wrongly banned accounts. People who are told they did something wrong, have everything taken away and never get it back. Let’s hear about the people who are scammed or hacked. No matter how long you have been on the site, no matter how much money you’ve pumped into it just to see it remain open, no matter how good of a little citizen you are.. once they take your stuff, it’s gone. And no, you don’t get it back.

    Let’s hear about the constant glitches, downtime of features and fact that the site flat out doesn’t work when under a big user load. Gee, one would think with all that money being pumped into the system and those fat grants they’ve received.. they could afford to make the mini games they so proudly rave about actually work. Or better yet, actually instate the features they proclaim are coming or the features they once had which simply vanished.

    After two years on the site I feel horribly embarrassed to admit I even know it exists. And I wish I had never even bothered signing up. Gaia is a huge waste of time and a total scam.