I’m glad Wagner James Au — who also writes about Second Life as an “embedded” reporter for New World Notes — has written a post about Gaia Online for GigaOm, because I’ve been meaning to write something about it and I keep forgetting. Now I don’t have to. I think Wagner’s headline might be overdoing it a little by saying MySpace should move over for Gaia, but there’s no question that Gaia is an interesting property.
I would never have heard about Gaia Online if I didn’t have a teenaged daughter. As Wagner points out, the service began as a fan site for teens who were interested in Japanese-style animation, or anime (and may have started with some animation students from Toronto’s Sheridan College, according to this three-year-old article from Forever Geek) and has been kind of flying under the radar — at least until it raised a bunch of venture capital financing last year. Now it has two million unique users a month, many of whom come for the online games but also for the chat forums and the various anime-related, role-playing fiction forums.
The latter are what my 13-year-old daughter spends most of her time on, although she does play games from time to time and has also accumulated a fair stockpile of virtual Gaia currency (which unlike Second Life can’t be exchanged for real-world currency — an interesting decision on the part of Gaia’s creators). But her favourite thing is to join a forum where someone has begun writing a story about a particular character, and to help expand and extend that story — with half a dozen other writers all taking part.
I find it fascinating, and she clearly does too. And it seems to have a considerable amount of staying power, since she has been involved with the site for two years or more now.
As he points out in a comment below, Jeremy Liew has a post up about Gaia and some of the other “casual immersive worlds” that are gaining traction, including Webkinz, Club Penguin and Neopets. As it turns out, I have some experience with those as well, since my 9-year-old daughter is a huge fan of all three of them. We’re a virtual household 🙂