Habbo, 86 Million Strong And Counting

Timo Soininen, CEO of Sulake, the Finnish company behind the wildly popular virtual world/social networking site Habbo, dropped by BusinessWeek HQ today. He gave my colleague Reena Jana and I an update on the quirky-but-compelling isometrically rendered site’s progress. As of January 2008, the site has generated some pretty impressive numbers: 8.3 million unique visitors a month with some 86 million registered users. What’s more, about 90% of Habbo’s users are in that jeunesse doree “demo” chased after by advertisers, 13 to 18 year olds.

More interestingly, Soininen had some insight into what brands should really be looking for with their forays in web 2.0 projects, either in Habbo or on other sites like MySpace or Facebook. “Brands in virtual worlds and social networking sites have to be unobtrusive,” he said. “The idea is less to be about a specific location or room, and more to become a topic of conversation, something users can take with them.” In Habbo that takes the form of digital items pruchased via micro-transactions, the millenial version of that Guns’N’Roses poster on your bedroom wall…

For its part, Habbo has a vital interest in not bombarding users with advertising messages according to Soininen. “A lot of users say, please don’t turn this into advertising Hell,” he joked. “We have to ration, not overwhelm, users with commercial messages. In effect, we vet the brands.” And that, it seems, works both ways since advertisers are also looking for clear, un-crowded places to setup shop and be noticed. “The reel beef for advertisers online,” he said, “is in community activities. If you want to get meaningful reach, that’s where it is.”

We also briefly discussed the potential of a U.S. recession (“Our types of services won’t be affected.”) and the temptation to feature creep or use the Habbo site’s success as a driver for a broader portal (“History has show: keep it simple, keep it stupid.”). All in all, an intersting if quick conversation.

Look for an upcoming update to the company’s massive youth survey previously written about by Reena.