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. fluffyrainbow_eater

    I am addicted to gaia. This addiction is much more healthy than the one I had for myspace (which I was hopelessly spread out on until gaia came into my life.) Gaia is great for meeting new people! Infact, I met my one true love on gaia. Together for 3 years and now going to be married i october. (on my birthday! =D)

  2. lil mama

    gaia is pretty kool. i have met a lot of nice ppl
    but when u first think of like dress up avatars
    and buy things with gold that u earn for games
    and puzzles, you think, “Wow that sounds so
    stupid and weird!!,” but when u actually play
    and make and account its actually fun, kind of
    weird but really fun.
    my username is LiL_Mama422 so if any of you
    have an acc add me=]]

  3. Pastei

    Gaia’s great and all, but it’s gone downhill over the last two years I’ve been on it.

    I’d say that the staff has gotten lazy when it comes to taking care of noobs, glitches, and actual events.

    My username there is Pastei. Mail me if you agree.

  4. Dominique

    I’ve been on Gaia since 2005, at first I just was attracted to the avatars because they reminded me of anime. Soon after playing for a month I simply forgot about it. After six months I took it up again and after maturing a little I started interacting with people. I soon fell in love with the site. Yes, I can see how Gaia has gone downhill but, if you find people and know where to go to find your place you can make the most of your experience there.

  5. Livvie

    I think Gaia Online owns MySpace by far. Im surrounded by people who use myspace, and i dont really find it great. I think its just a profile with a bunch of pictures of yourself and some music.
    Gaia is much more than that and i dont think ill be leaving Gaia for a while. Gaia has everything really. The community is really nice and its just great to get into indepth discussions, without the flamers and n00bs. i dont mind newbies, since they are new and dont know what to do. But for those who know the site and just be an idiot for the sake of it really annoy me. Ive been on Gaia for three years, and it makes the number 1 of my top 3 sites. Its just so addicting.

    1: Gaia Online
    3. Havent decided yet!

  6. I have been part of Gaia Online since early January of this year(although I was hacked back in late April and had to start all over again >.<).I love Gaia Online.Whenever I go on,I feel like I can do whatever I want.I go on it daily(or at least try to,my schedule is so busy sometimes),and I can stay on it for up to 2 hours.I love to chat in the forums and talk with people about different things.Unfortunately,the forums are constantly filled with immature Gaians who don’t really know anything.That’s one con.But a pro about Gaia Online is that you can dress up your avatar in the coolest and cutest clothes imaginable(clothes that you wish existed),and you can make friends with a lot of cool people who like the same things you do.I love Gaia Online,and I’ll always go on there until the day I become deceased! XD
    ~Kyra aka TehPockyQueen~

    P.S. My name on this comment is my name on Gaia,so look out for me if you want! ^_^

  7. Dark_Keeazaye

    I’ve been a member of Gaia as of June 17, 2004… and I’ve honestly had my ups and downs. There have been times that I’ve absolutely been in love with it and then there are times when I’m sick of it… but I can never truly leave. I’ve never been one to “get rid” of anything…

    In any case, the inflation of the cost of items is rather annoying… and the fact that n00bs (anyone who’s been on Gaia for less than a year) get more items and more gold that those such as myself is irritating. I’ve had to work hard to get where I am now, but now it’s just so EASY for people to just get gold or hack or beg or whatever the case may be.

    Many people in Gaia (like the real world) are arrogant and stuck up and things are based by appearances. For example, if you don’t have “cool” items or a “hot” avatar, you’re less likely to get noticed.

    On a lighter note… there are many kind, unique individuals on Gaia aswell. Many users are very talented and witty and, all in all, I’m proud to say I’m a member of Gaia and I’m pleased with what Craig has started, and all of the things that the moderators and administrators have done.

  8. Yami no Sakura

    I agree with what a lot of people have said already: Gaia is getting flooded by little immature kids and is, overall, going down the drain. I’ve been a member since November of ’03, and I’ve witness first hand how the site had been spiralling downwards.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still hang out there a lot, but the level of immaturity is at a record low, and the site is becoming more and more commercialized. There’s a new “sponsor quest” practically every week! It’s becoming extremely difficult to find a hangout with kind, intelligent people.

    I’m still willing to give Gaia a second chance (though, technically, it’s more like a third or fourth chance…), so long as there’s still SOME literacy.

  9. froggy and you too kimmy you both have points nobody likes beggers and also cybering noobs that and myspace is evil i just like my profile on myspace cause i got kool-aid lol but ya gaia does get those kinds of people and its one of the main reason there arnt very many nice people anymore im still nice i like giving stuff away.

    and stuff like that but when people send me a bunch of spam im pissed. After that is sorta like saying its go time and smak those noobs right in the face with a nice big back hand in the face. but really what are teeny-boppers i dont really understand that.

    so froggy if you ever get on gaia just send me a msg about what it is my username is mr.blackdog so jusst look me up.

    also kimmy the whole thing about winning 50k is really great for me cause i always send them fake accounts and passwords you know its always funny they think they so smart.

    (From the mind of Jeff White Hawk.)

  10. Froggy aka Peridot_Horntail

    Having been on Gaia since December 2006 (don’t let my account fool you, I had to switch to a mule after a system went down.), I have to say I love it. Sure, there are n00bs, and a LOT of them, but they tend to join up once and never return. As for the money, I may have to agree there. But in this rising world of technology, they’re going to have to bring in more funds to keep from being devoured by big-Interweb businesses.

    While I wish the MCs were easier to get, I wouldn’t trade Gaia for the world. MySpace is evil, and I can tell you from experience that it’s full of those annyoing little teeny-boppers, that, in the immortal words of JTHM, “Make you want to saw their legs off.”

    So…yeah. Gaia rocks. And may it never go down.

    • Peridot_Horntail
  11. the only problems i have with it is all the beggers you say po,itly no and they go all crazy and start swearing the same thing goes for guys begging for girlfriends.
    also the people who just go around asking radom people to cyber
    and then they do it in public sheesh if you have to get you sick kicks in that way do it in private
    and lastly is the hackers and undergrounders
    sending random messages saying you win 50,000 gold all you have to do is give me your name and password
    like im going to fall for that and then their are the people that use the friend request and race requests to write annoying little messages all i can say is grr
    everything else on gaia i love ^_^

  12. Also just a short note:

    I still dont understand their promotion of gaia with the whole go out and show off your gaia hats ans hoodies ya know.

    but I still say it would help but wouldn’t you feel weird?

    I dont feel weird about it but im just not really understanding it its uhh crap i forgot what they call it…

    but your supposd to sign up ans send them pics of what you’ve done to promote the site and you get monthly prizes from it I tryed it but didnt win.

    you should try it some time maybe.

    and yes most of this is sorta off topic but still.

    i do what i want!

  13. Well i think all your comments are cool but ive been a fan since 2k4 myself and i think that i spend most of my time talking in to forums but what the real problem with gaia is that the let new members have good looking items when they start and i quite enjoyed have to struggle with getting gold but its so easy to get money and buy things off the stores and market.

    (But im looking forward to the mmo they are making been wating fro something like it. Also im using my screen name on here cause i dont care what happens to it not my problem right now.)

  14. I love gaiaonline I have been on gaia online for 2 month now the game are ok and I love makeing new friends on gaia online my boyfriend is on gaiaonline and I get stuff for my anime or what they call it some pll don’t like gaiaonline but I do BECOUSE YOU CAN MEET NEW PLL ON IT yay!!! for gaia I have a myspace and I go on it every day now but I love to go on gaia online a lot if your going to add me on gaia online my name is (little lover anime girl) and you can find me yay sssssssssssssooooooo plez don’t get mad if I don’t add you ass a friend is becouse some time I don’t get on! sorry for that by the way my nick name is little lover anime girl I am funny and I like to make new friends on myspace and gaiaonline bye

  15. Demmatrie

    Mmkay. I’ve been on GAIA since March of ’05. I remember when nobody knew about it and it was lovely. No-one messaged you about “giving them gold” or anything like that. And to be quite honest like some other people have said. GAIA is slowly becoming unusable. Even I’m growing to dislike it. The thing is, GAIA was much better when you didn’t have all these advertisements all over the site and you HAD to use the map to get to the shops and such. But, all good things come to an end and this this will probably start to end soon. The thing is, is that people expect for things to come out quickly on GAIA and what. We’ve been hearing about this “Battle System” for I think about a year. The “Movies” were great when they came out but I don’t want to pay to watch them. And games, well. You shouldn’t be teaching twelve year olds how to gamble. But overall, In my opinion at least. GAIA was great then but it’s close to horrendous now. Ah well. I’ll probably stick with the website until it shuts down or get completely overrun. So I’m just a hypocrite. :3

  16. Gaia Online has taught me many things, because of this site I am a better writer, artist etc. The users take the time to listen and point out your errors, it’s very rare to find this now -a-days. I have been with them for two years and I can proudly say that I have never once regretted being a member!

    Keep up the good work Gaia! I shall never abandon your site.

  17. I’ve been a member since March 2004 and love to support the site in any way possible. I don’t mind the easy quests or sponsorships because it takes thousands, if not tens or even hundreds of thousands (per year), to run a site that huge. The Mods and Admins are still userfriendly, if not a little annoyed at the outrageous amount of spam they deal with, and they still care about their users. They try their best to do their job and keep unwanted material out of the forums, but it’s not Gaia’s fault they’re being overrun. It’s the spammers’ faults. :4a7d3d609129a9296bf7ac0608c2097

    Though the day they start advertising via commercials, like Neopets, I’ll be one of many walking out the door. I’d rather they spend their money on making the site run better, not advertising more than it already is.

  18. Doctor

    Well, I already know that the OP doesnt know what hes talking about.
    Mainly because of the “Gaia’s online world aspect (which launches in a separate Java-powered window)”. Gaia has never, Ever, used java. LEARN2FACT.

  19. omg gaia is really cool. i am like on it every day…… i have met so many friends i had to make more tham one gaia. so far i have about 1000 friends. i know its like amazing and i highly recomend this site XD

  20. RedMoonAkatsuki

    I’ve ben on gaia for about a year now, and I am sad to say that there has ben a huge decline on gaia. I miss when almost everybody was literate, and when you could have a decent conversation. But thats all gone. I do love the site, though and tell people to join, but the good old days of month long rps are over. thats why I joined. but its still a good site none the less. although I could do without the beggers. But I shall stay loyal to the end. ps, for literate rp, pm me! i used my usrn to post this!

  21. It’s very obvious to me that this page is link by someone on forum.

    Gaia was kind(ish) of innovated in the level you could participate in plot but really~~ Now (or it’s been announced) the plot is passive and it’s all about items.

    I don’t think Gaia is very innovative. When it started, the art was Ragnorak-ish and internet doll things existed before than. It sort of started as a place where all anime fandom gather together (and there were an ass load of anime pages at the time) and original was an anime portal/forum. Anime fandom was pretty big (and it still is). I think people who are attracted to fandom tend to be pretty dedicated and as the site got bigger, they donated. Items became an incentive and than a priced items. For a long time, users believed that admins ‘cared’ about the site and what they think. Userfeed back was valued and people felt that they were part of improving the site. To some extent it was true.

    Then it went to RP then to ‘internet hang out’ to add universal appeal.

    Eventually, they just kept adding things. Right now~ it’s pretty unfocused and everything is just big and customizable. I feel the user experience is valued less than the sponsors~ but I feel that people are to attached to their items or something to leave.

    Had they implemented the sponsor system then currently have quickly in 03-05, people would have left. There was an outcry about it when they found the media pack so they stop. Later, when the community was crushed and people just cared about items, they did it very very very slowly and Wahh~ La.

  22. I think gaia is an excellent site to relieve stress as well… I’ve been a member for over a year now and I barely know everything about it… I just picked up on the Gaia Exchange just a couple weeks before Halloween and I’ve been making lots of gold due to the ‘Buy cheap & Sell high’ theory… Buy cheap in the Exchange, and make sure it’s a popular item… Then sell it for regular MP in the marketplace… Pretty simple… If you want to get in contact with me, my name on gaia is iNagareboshi… PM me and we can chat and stuff…

  23. Well Gaiaonline is an extremely interesting site…you don’t get bored on it easily and you meet new people and get in touch with new anime’s and it’s really cool I have one as well and it is SOOOO much better than Myspace 100% way to go!! ^^