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What is the social media platform Gaia Online?

By Harriet Piercy

Nov 22, 2020

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Gaia Online is not your typical social media website, but it is just that nonetheless, albeit targeting a niche audience with an anime-themed network. The site was founded as Go Gaia at the start of 2003   by a few comic book fans, but the name has subsequently changed to Gaia Online (commonly known as Gaia) in 2004 by the site’s owner, Gaia Interactive. What is Gaia like now that we’re in 2020?

What is Gaia Online?

Gaia originally launched as an anime linklist, which is a linear data structure consisting of nodes where each node contains a data field and a reference (link) to the next node in the list. Once the linklist evolved into a small community, the website proceeded to develop a social gaming network and eventually focused on being forum-based, or in other words, a message board whereby online discussion can be held in the form of posted comments, private messages and replies.

By 2007, Gaia had over 26 million registered users, over a million posts were made daily and 7 million unique users visited the site each month. Gaia also won the community category of the Webware 100 Awards and was featured in Time magazine’s list of 50 best websites in 2008. In 2011 Mashable announced that the company won the Mashable Best User experience Award for 2010.

The members of Gaia, known as Gaians, receive a customisable avatar when they sign up. Gaians can change their hairstyle and colour, eye colour, skin tone, gender, attire or race—for example, they can be human, vampire, elf or zombies among other races.

Clothing items and accessories can be free or purchased using the site currencies, Gaia Platinum and Gaia Cash. These avatars appear, much like a profile picture on Facebook, alongside comments in the forums, as well as in Gaia Towns, Gaia rallies (car racing) and other environments where the avatar appears as a movable character that can interact with its surroundings. They can do pretty much anything; catch bugs, shake trees, dig for treasure, collect flowers… Whatever you can think of, a Gaia avatar can probably do it. Some gamers might be reminded of the typical activities users get up to in Animal Crossing.

Features on Gaia Online

Essentially, a member could sign up and just chat and hang out all day like on any other social media site, but the site has a collaborative action approach where members (or avatars) can play games against each other, explore environments or attend special events like art contests or poetry forums. Because of this, these avatars are able to create real relationships with the members behind the avatars.

Gaia members also have access to premium services such as Gold or Platinum currencies, which members can earn by what they do on the site, for example, a member will earn status by posting comments, playing games and simply being ‘active’. Members can also buy items from virtual stores, marketplaces as well as set up their own shops. In 2007, Gaia released a virtual currency called Gaia Cash, which can be purchased with real money, and used to purchase goods online such as collectable items or clothing and anything else that may be for sale.

There is a virtual auction house on the site that lets members buy, sell and trade their items. Gaia is predominantly free, but there are subscription choices available that allow access to premium features or extra benefits within the platform.

Gaia in 2020

Having been around for 17 years, the Gaia community still seems to be going strong in 2020. Like any niche platform and online gaming space, hardcore fans are bound to appear along with it. Unlike mainstream platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, which continually evolve on a mass scale, ultimately leading to users having less of an attachment due to the fast-paced nature of these sites, Gaia users remain ‘loyal’. While users are likely to follow where the rest of the crowd goes on the basis of these sites functioning as a mass social media platform (with smaller communities within it), Gaia offers them  a social community on its own.

Gaia plugs a gap in the market that is not mainstream and this seems to serve its purpose in continuing its long term success. It will be interesting to compare the ebb and flow of contrasting social media sites and to see whether or not more niche sites like Gaia will start popping up as communities grow online, due to the fact that it is becoming more accessible and used all over the world.