You know me as a strong advocate (and ex-CEO) of www.irc.fi - IRC-Galleria who has long held the top spot in the finnish youth Internet world and still remains as one of the most active social media sites on the net.
I blogged a detailed entry on their recent-enough statistics in November here:
and more recently compared them to Facebook's Finland network here:
This time however I have to objectively look at some data and ask the questions:
* Has the growth of IRC-Galleria hit a wall?
* Has it reached its saturation point in Finland?
* Are they suffering from Facebook's success in Finland?
* Is the focus on foreign expansion leaving the domestic site/service lost at sea?
Please note that I haven't been with the company for quite some time now, so I will have to speculate a bit on this.
On 18th of October IRC-Galleria had a big party to celebrate 500K registered + active users. That's only about 3 months 2 weeks ago.
Now they have a userbase of 506484 users. Growing by 6 thousand users in 3.5 months is about less than 2000 users a month - a very dismal figure for a service that has become accustomed to seeing that amount of growth in a week or so.
It seems that IRC-Galleria's growth has slumped by roughly 75% and is currently as little as one fourth of what it used to be - in fact what it has been pretty much throughout the history of the successful site.
Old ancient data that I have shows IRC-Galleria having 283509 users on December 14, 2005.. which would suggest a growth rate of more than 200 (about 207-210) users per day up until they hit 500K in October 2008. Naturally the curve isn't entirely flat like that; towards the more recent years daily user growth has been quite a bit more than that.
The current growth rate ever since hitting 500k has been no more than about 60 users per day or so.
And it looks like it might be slowing down further.
IRC-Galleria's user counter only counts the registered and active users. When people leave the service they almost certainly delete their accounts. Because the whole concept is being built in a way that requires you to be active. Having an inactive account in there is out of the question for many people. Thus every day hundreds of people come in and hundreds get removed from the number, the grand daily total showing currently as modest growth of 60 or so net users per day.
Altogether there has been something like over 2 million accounts created throughout the service's lifetime. Which means that user churn is rather high and some people frequently switch accounts, never complete their registering etc etc. the usual stuff.
Why are the numbers growing so slowly? There might be couple of reasons:
- They have really hit the saturation point. Which I think is rather unlikely. There should be room to go upwards to 750K or ever 1M registered users by making the concept more appealing to older (in this case 30-something) people.
- They are focusing so much on conquering the foreign markets that their primary source of revenue; the domestic service, is left to drift lost at sea. Things such as this are known to happen to companies, and if they do have this going on they would not be the first to make this mistake. Hard to speculate further without much visibility.
- Are people leaving for Facebook? This seems entirely plausible; Facebook has grown "like crazy" in Finland with the kind of numbers IRC-Galleria has never seen. It is somewhat likely that especially the "older" folks in the service are starting to be come less active and switching the primary portion of their usage into Facebook. As far as I know this wasn't yet the case in early fall, but things might have changed over the past few months - as everybody seems to suddenly rush into Facebook. My 18 year old sister is in there. So is my 50+ year old mum. Similar situations seem to be the norm nowdays, with entire families and possibly generations of Finns having their stuff up in Facebook.
Wonder how many of them realize that Facebook has background ties to the CIA (through their venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel) (further reading on that can be found all over the place, for example here.)
Yet still; IRC-Galleria is a giant in the local youth Internet and the activity levels are way high up there far above Facebook.
That's the double-sided sword right there; if your concept requires everyone to be very active, it is very hard to turn it around if people start abandoning it en masse (for any reason) or some other place has more contemporary sex appeal of the hour.
IRC-Galleria got started in December of 2000.. in "Internet years" the service is pretty ancient and not much of the similar sites from 'back in the day' are around anymore. "oh where are the snows of yesteryear?" (some old medival lament).
The only way to survive in a changing world is to change yourself. Perhaps that's what IRC-Galleria needs to face - or we might start to see those tiny growth numbers turn towards the negative territory..
Neil Gaiman was once asked to summarize his truly marvelous and epic masterpiece story The Sandman in once sentence (it is 10+ books long). He said;
"The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision."