Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Meet 9GAG, the Community Comedy Site That’s Growing Like Crazy

Message board communities, with their endless creativity and mob mentalities, are kind of a mysterious phenomenon within the business of technology.

For instance, how did Reddit emerge and thrive over time? How could Digg have grown without alienating its community? Should the world be scared of 4chan? Can I Can Has Cheezburger turn into viable venture-backed businesses? What’s the next big hit?

We might have just the answer to that last question. 9GAG is a fast-growing user-submitted meme site that Silicon Valley investors have recently been humming about — in part because they might actually get a piece of this one early on.

9GAG had 67 million unique visitors in the past month, and more than two billion page views, according to co-founder Ray Chan. That compares favorably with Reddit’s most recent self-reported traffic.

To try to get more of a fair comparison, I asked comScore to pull a chart of global traffic to this group of sites. By unique visitor count, 9GAG surged in the past year to reach the top spot in February. (And, wow, just look at Digg.)

9GAG posts are generally in the style of comic strips, with lots of cute animals and big captions and teen humor, followed by long comment threads of people riffing on the joke. It’s not often clear where the original material was found or created.

Chan and his four co-founders, who are based in Hong Kong, created 9GAG in 2008. It had been doing just fine as a side project, with about 500,000 page views per month — and was a sort of resume-builder for part of the team to be accepted to work on start-up ideas last summer as part of the 500 Startups accelerator.

During the summer program in Mountain View, Calif., the 9GAG team worked on a group photo-sharing app, and then a karaoke site called Singboard, which I somewhat randomly wrote about at the time.

But then, after 500 Startups wrapped up, 9GAG started to grow like crazy. By October, the team decided to kill its other projects and go all-in on 9GAG.

Chan was tight-lipped about 9GAG’s seed funding, saying it wasn’t finalized, but some investors I’ve heard are involved include Freestyle Capital, True Ventures, First Round Capital and Greycroft Partners (that same investor list has been mentioned elsewhere). Chan did say that 9GAG gave 500 Startups equity as thanks for their help with the other discontinued projects last summer.

Chan — who previously worked at a Hong Kong TV station and on a book community start-up called aNobii — said 9GAG is currently profitable using Google AdSense, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering it is paying Amazon Web Services to support its crazy growth.

The U.S. is 9GAG’s largest audience, but it accounts for only 12 percent of total traffic, according to Chan.

Chan thinks 9GAG’s growth reflects its team’s focus on user experience — the site is simple and visual, without lots of annoying ads. 9GAG is also tightly integrated with Facebook; it uses Facebook’s commenting system, it allows users to embed content directly on Facebook, and its actively updated fan page has 2.8 million “Likes.”

9GAG (the name sounds like “making fun” in Cantonese) is much more than a meme site, Chan said. That’s sort of a touchy distinction, because the folks at Reddit and 4chan have criticized 9GAG for stealing their memes.

“We want to become a place where people will go to whenever they want to kill some time and have a laugh,” Chan said. “We want to make the world a happier place.”

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”