In some circles, September 1993 is known as ‘Eternal September’ or ‘the September that never ended’. It’s an expression that came about over 20 years ago from Usenet and new service providers like America Online.
I was still a kid myself at the time so I can only relate what I have read. Usenet had been established for quite some time as a new trend emerged. Every September there would be an onslaught of new people using the service as people went to college and gained regular access to Usenet for the first time. Those students would be annoying to the Usenet regulars until they learned the ‘netiquette’ of how to properly use the service and interact with others.
When AOL arrived on the scene, as well as other ISPs, and brought Internet access to thousands and eventually millions of more homes, it also brought many of those individuals onto Usenet. Just as the freshmen annoyed the Usenet regulars, these new users also had a learning curve until they became valued members of the online communities. Unlike the academic year, these new ISP customers didn’t stop after September. Rather, they continued on as the ISPs and AOL spread to more households.
Digg and Reddit
In a more recent example, I see similarities with Reddit and Usenet. Both online communities gained a growing user base at a particular point in time. For Reddit, that time was in August 2010. Digg had launched a redesign of the site and refused to back down. As a result, many users left the site and switched to Reddit as their place for online socially-aggregated news. The previous users of Reddit complained of the wave of new users that had not yet learned the social norms for the site or knew what made for good content to submit. The fast growth also sometimes put Reddit under pressure and could take the site down or unresponsive quite regularly.
Learning from the past
If you launch a new online service, you are probably most concerned about acquiring your first 1000 users. This might become a marketing challenge or it might be really easy with a revolutionary product and natural word-of-mouth recommendations. Once you’re established though, you might want to take into consideration the ‘Eternal September’ effect. How do you foster a culture that grows to be unique but is also inviting to new users?
These challenges should be taken into consideration in your marketing strategy, infrastructure, and service offerings. Where do you recruit your new users from? Is your infrastructure able to scale to growth so that everybody gets an optimum experience? Do you have an introduction to new users explaining some of the social norms of the site?
Wikipedia – Eternal September