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. Mueno

    I also have to say that the Forums are undoubtably Gaia’s heart. If you spend a short amount of time there you realize how real some people can be, Sure, There’s beggers and rude people, People who price their art at incredibly unreasonable extents, And other things. But isn’t that everywhere? What I’ve found to truely love is some of the people you meet, Most of my friends are artists, As am I, And they’re fun loving, Generous people, Not at all what other “Raging-Got-Mad-Because-It’s-Too-Hard-To-Make-Money” people. Duh. You have to work for it. My alternative is Art. Or signs, Try something.

    Sure the Items are getting shot up, But Gaia also follows a real-life trail, The Economy is down and prices are up, So in a way.. It teaches you a lesson. Sure, I’m a Millionare, But I’ve worked at it, And I really do care about where the Site is going, Sure the repairs are annoying, And zOMG! Isn’t all that great, But the Forums are still amazing. And to me, It’s okay as long as the Forums are held up.

    And in my opinion, It won’t get sold off, The current artists and creators love it too much, It isn’t like most sites in a way, I think it’s more. If so many adults, And young teens are enjoying it, What’s there to whine about? I do have to say, We want it World-Wide, Right? Then why complain about it being crowded? There’s so many people that go, It makes me happy to see that since I’ve joined it’s so much more popular, Gaia isn’t going anywhere. Not for a long, Long time. C:

    As for the losing of Accounts, That happens everywhere, You usually have to ask a friend to send in a letter, I was hacked a while back, But everything was returned, Then my friends Birthday came around and I allowed him to get his gift off my Account, He got Banned, But I explained it to the Moderators’ and he got it back, Nothing is gone forever, Unless you were banned for a good reason.

    Also, On the subject of Greed, I’ll admit to that, But once I Quest I Donate to Charity’s. C: Makes me feel as if I’ve helped those hard working little newbies.

    also think that if people got by all the wrong do-ers, Like we should in real life, They could really enjoy the site. Everyone someone will not follow rules, Will cheat, Hack, And lie. But don’t make to negative side of anything your focus. It simply isn’t healthy. Gaia is like any other Site, It has good sides, And bad. You just have to learn to enjoy it. <33

    I joined around 4 Years ago, And till this day I adore everyone I have known and met.

    And Again: Can’t find somewhere you belong? Forums. It’s amazing. There’s no way you won’t Connect. And hey, You could become a Chatter Box sensation :D.

    Feel free to add me, Tell me where you saw me, Too!
    Account name: Mueno

  2. well i have to admit tht i did cyber
    a couple of times i stoped tho its pathitic
    but it was funn
    lolz anyway in gaia theres many fun and kewl things
    to do like theres forums which r really fun and kewl
    pluus u meet ppl like jamie said
    its addicting luv the game

  3. I have been using Gaia for maybe about…3 or 4 months. I have gotten up to 200k (with some help of friends, or course.)
    I love it.
    Just the “noobs” and the kids trying to cyber is gross.
    Mainly I just go to make friends, though it does get addicting after a while.
    Such as online relationships is a serious thing on Gaia. I dont get it.
    Otherwise, I might get a gaia cash card for Christmas.
    Because I like it so much. :]

  4. also gaia is a great way to meet people that u never thought u would evr meet its really cool to talk to someone from moroco and lern about wat they do and wats unic about them
    i personally think gaia is the best website i ever been on
    nothing is better
    its really cool to most things on like forums its ur oppninon it feels like someone actually care about wat u think about the subject
    as a teenager it feels like ur life is always ingnored no one cares wat u think but on gaia its like ur thought actually matters
    thank u for creating gaia ur the best
    i luv u for tht
    (people that made it ur awsome) :D

  5. when i first herd of gaia i thought it was a waste of time till i made a gaia account untill now im still addicted
    its a very cool game im only 14 ive been playing it for like 51 days and i try to get on anytime
    my gaia person is
    so if u saw that name anywere that was me
    add me
    if u want i love to meet new people every day

  6. I’ve been on Gaia since October 2008. And I’m impressed. I used to spend hours searching the MP when I first came to the site. And I’d spend time in the Games. Then in late Janurary I discovered the Forums. Now that’s where I spend virtually all my time while online. I wouldn’t play so frequently, but I have this one amazing friend who keeps me up until 2am. <33

    Add me: Username–Happy Rocks :D

    • anono

      I’ve been a member of Gaia for 2 years, and I really love how the site is. Unlike Myspace, which I use to always get on, on Gaia there’s so much more to do. You could go chat in virtual rooms with other gaians, you could play games which give you gold, and now there’s this awesome new mmo zOMG!. I LOVE that, and it’s the first mmo I’ve ever played. On Myspace, all you do is update your profile, leave comments on other peoples’ pros, reply to email, then get off and wait for the next time you have new stuff. =/ BORING!!! There are some downs about Gaia though, but VERY LITTLE. Like, yeah the stupid way some old members who have alot of gold and items judge others who don’t have much on their avatars. “Oh, what a noob. I got more stuff than you. Look at them, they don’t have anything, they look poor.” THAT DISGUSTS ME! I feel like cursing at them, but I always remember to keep my cool, that you could get banned if reported. I’m not too wealthy of gold, it takes me like months just to get 10,000 gold >.< But I don't mind much, I dress my avatar pretty cool, if I do say so ^^. That's what annoys me to the last nerve, the prejudice against new members that MOST of the members have. Some people think that if you've been on gaia for a while, that you should get alot of items so you're not a 'noob'. LISTEN UP PEOPLES: A 'noob', (I hate that fudging word, but everyone seems to say it now) is a person on a site who annoys people, and spams chats and other forums. A 'noob' ISN'T a member whose younger than the age limit of a site. GET IT, GOT IT, GOOD.

      I agree with the title of this forum:

      ….sorry, I'm really fond of GAIA =D

      sorry, i found the need to post this again cuz i dint c it posted

  7. Keyoshi

    I love gaia. I have had it for over 4 years. It’s really good. It is safe if you know what you’re doing and you don’t give personal information away. It’s very fun and has many things to do.

    my unsername is Keyoshi Storm, message me!!!

  8. Tigerthis

    I think that stupid Gaia site gave my computer a stupid Virus, Everytime I went up there my computer said there was something attacking it!! Gaia will kill your computer!! It happened to my friend too, It killed his laptop with its’ unstopable viruses. We both had virus protection, it went straight through. I’m just trying to save peoples computers.

  9. If anybody that needs help on gaia come to my site and get all the help you need and while you are their play some games this site is in the process of becoming as famous as so try it out and help me get their.

  10. i love gaia so much..
    I worked very hard to get gold but the gaia cash shop had made people that can buy items using real money gets gold way to easy..kinda not fair to other that couldnt buy those things with real money..we have to worked hard to get gaia gold..
    also,not anymore interested to play zOMG since all the rings are soul bounded..
    but..everything in gaia s fun! nice friends,cute avatar..

  11. Gai online is fun i admit that im a member for over a year now but gaia stills ahs its fla’s like in the market it takes away 2% that really sucks when you have high worth items haveing thousands of your items worth go to waste how are you to eran any profit maybe a little idk i liked the old market it was great no problems, and more and more i paly this game im thinking there coming out with alot of evoling items where peoepl have to use real moeny to get them…idk it seems gaai is going into a money making monster now.. waht if peopel didnt have the money to buy the evoling items? nor even spending them time to get thousands of gold they are worth on gaia idk it seems gaia is attracting new peoepl but losing ther members that have been there longer.

  12. Some people might think it goes unnoticed but I assure you that gaiaonline does not go unnoticed in schools around the world. You can’t get on a bus in the suburbs without finding another gaia user! For those of you who love Gaiaonline as much as I do you can find me on gaia most of the time using the username Scipe. Come say hi.

  13. i might add that gaia is really bad at getting peoples accounts back…
    the account i’d had since 03 got hacked and then banned.
    When i emailed gaia about it i got nothing for weeks
    and after waiting the only response i got was that i ‘profited from hacking/was hacking’ and that according to the rules of gaia they wouldn’t get my account back.

    I can honestly say to spend 5 years on a website and then have to start all over is not even remotely a fun thing

    they should work on their ‘customer service’ a bit

  14. This is the first serious article i think i’ve ever seen about gaia
    i’ve been a member since 2003 and i’ve liked it since
    though i liked it more than because it wasn’t as populated and it did not have as much going on
    it was basically just forums (no games, no cinema, etc etc)

    i still enjoy it, though i do believe they’ve begun to aim toward just the lower teen variety
    which is fairly annoying

  15. Just decided to check this blog out again to see what other people said about it. Oh, and I was once TehPockyQueen, but by next week, my account name should be Queen of MyChem, so message me if you want! =3

    ~TehPockyQueen, soon to be Queen of MyChem

  16. alright… ive been a gain for maybe 2 months.. last i checked witch was about 2-4 weeks ago i was 67 days old… i love gia bnut form what i can tell it was better whene it was higher aged… anyways plz… msg me my name says it all with the aka stuff… and in case u still havnt figured it ouit my name is zrac123

  17. alright… ive been a gain for maybe 2 months.. last i checked witch was about 2-4 weeks ago i was 67 days old… i love gia bnut form what i can tell it was better whene it was higher aged… anyways plz… msg me my name says it all with the aka stuff… and in case u still havnt figured it ouit my name is zrac123

  18. So first off, I’d like to say that I was expecting an article like this, with X-amount of people saying otherwise. I agree 100%. Not tooting my horn as well, I joined in ’04 when I was 14, and from that time till NOW, Gaia’s attitude and membership focus became younger and younger. Why did they put an age limit of 13? why not make it 17. Myspace requires you to be 18, right? and yet I know a crap-load of people younger than 10 with a damn myspace. Dont even get me started on myspace. I absolutely DISPISE the pictures that people post. They’re all ugly when you go to view their personal gallery anyways. just a bunch of badly-made photoshopping.

    So, back to Gaia. I liked it in the beginning, because I had a group that went online at high school. and gaia was big enough then. It was fun because there were nice people to talk to. and they were pretty cool, I might add.

    I knew about gaia when it was still called the purpose of gaia’s community is so far off than from their original ideas that I wonder seriously if the original admins cry at night, knowing their site is full of IDIOT 11/12 YEAR-OLDS!!!

    Gaia should revert back to the old days. the features can stay, but these membership issues are ridiculous. They allow people to create usernames like “LOOKITMAPENIS!!” Gaaadd.

    Stop taking our money, Gaia. or use it for more bandwidth. I hate forum power-outages.

    Chance OUT

  19. Many features are broken and have been for a while. This includes inventory, gifting, no filtering for bad language, fishing, word bump and towns and don’t get me started on the cybering. Then there is the fact that in July Gaia rolled out some bad code that caused a games item glitch. Hundreds of users were banned and two months later can still not use trades or the market. It was not the fault of the users yet Gaia has left them to rot as the forgotten ones while they are busy adding more ads and sponsor items. Not the site it was even 1 year ago and not a place to let your kids be on with the lack of language control and rampant cybering.

  20. I’ve been on gaia since 2004 of May. It’s a fun place to hang out but I am simply outraged at what it has become. Not only the chatterbox and GD has been corrupted, but the ED as well. The ED was suppose to be a more intellectual place for in-depth debates. However it is now plagued with “do you love me?” :/ I simply hate how gaia is being infested with ignorant illiterates. But what can you do? :/

  21. Steal_This_username

    I like Gaia more than any other site that is a socializing site because it is doesn’t lag at all. There is an occasional glitch, but it’s generally taken care of… Lately it’s been lacking, but the site has been developing so fast the Mods can’t always keep up with it. ;.; There is also an influx of younger users, that’s true, but if it seriously bothers users, they can go to the guilds. The guilds are private places where users can meet up with similar interests. I love the guilds, personally. :]

    It also has lots of forums and discussion boards, with a lot of people to talk to and debate with. Ontop of the forums, it has many items and well designed avatars that are fun to dress up. Finally, I like it because it has fun, interactive games and towns where you can chat and meet people, or just play. =]

    I think it’s a whole new way to ‘play’ online and I don’t plan on abandoning it when the MMMO comes out. I’ve been on gaia for more than 3 years and I don’t plan on leaving. :)