ASHF: The Evolution of Nairaland
Perhaps you are just arriving from there. Most likely, you hold down an account, or maybe multiple accounts. In fact, you have grown addicted to the news, banter and the connection it affords you. Whatever the case, it is hard to ignore the truth that Nairaland has become one of the most popular and significant sites on the Nigerian web. Boasting more than 1.7m members and a host of topics numbering over 3m, the site has become one of the easiest ways Nigerians connect and share information online. Its engaging topics not only provide room for relevant (and non-relevant!) discussions, they also serve, after their death, as repositories of invaluable information on things related to Nigeria. Not unexpectedly, Nairaland did not start its trip into the jolly sunset in one day.
Created by Seun Osewa, Nairaland came online as an internet forum in March 2005. By March 27 of the same year, it had about 15 members and 13 topics. In a country where the internet was introduced in 1996, but didn’t gain firm footing until the early 2000s, it seems reasonable that a forum would appear in 2005. However, a number of other forums did take off in the early years of surfing in Nigeria, but only a few combined the advantages of Nairaland: great simplicity and quick loading speed. This means a host of them couldn’t survive the highly dynamic internet world.
Among other things, Nairaland did not start off in March with its now famous home page in 2005. The early days of the site had no topic listing on its home page, and merely featured links to all sub-sections on the forum. But the home page eventually came about fairly quickly. By the end of April 2005, Nairaland had a characteristically bland front page, on which was displayed topics posted by any of its then 214 members in any of Entertainment, Living, Technology and Others (formerly Special Topics). This means, the front page simply hosted the most recently created topics, updating with the creation of any new topic; any member’s thread thus earned deserved status on the front page. But this privilege didn’t last for very long.
By June, increasing number of topics on its site meant not all topics could make it to the front page. With posts now reaching the 8000 mark and members numbering 1560, it became important to only push threads which have enjoyed the most views and replies to the home page, i.e. trending pages. That soon became the norm. However, topics had no more than 20 or 18 replies; the most interesting had no more than 50 replies.
Later in the year, not a lot changed about the site besides its home. August of 2005 saw the home page change its format quite significantly. Topics were listed from top to bottom, centered on the home page and bolded in parts. The home still housed only trending topics, but occasionally included weirdly long headlines and fancy pictures. It soon started taking its current form around this period. At the turn of that year, Nairaland was entertaining 9543 members who had created 3674 topics among them. For a relatively new website, that was quite significant.
Nairaland retained its general form for much of 2006. The home page topics constituted featured links to trending topics. Sections maintained evolved from General, Entertainment, Technology and others, to Technology, Entertainment and General Discussion, with a few child forums redistributed around the respective sections. Birthdays were displayed at the bottom of the home page and registered users who were active in the last 24 hours were also visible at the same location. The website remained “Powered by SMF”, an open source, professional grade software package that allowed the set-up of online forums in minutes. By December 2006, Nairaland closed the year with more than 65000 members and 28855 topics.
By 2006, the home page soon lost the pictures and long texts that often accompanied trending topics. At the same time, some of the front-page topics also began earning priority posting; there were enough views and replies to go around. However, Nairaland retained similar format from previous years, losing only the figure for the number of posts made by members sometime in April 2007. At over 1 million, the number simply became too huge to quote in the top right hand corner and was eventually dropped. Since then, the home page has only quoted the number of members on the site and the number of topics created.
Growing internet penetration in Nigeria no doubt buoyed the popularity of Nairaland. As many more Nigerians obtained access to the internet and mobile telephony afforded quick surfing, Nairaland became a favourite destination for most. Its simple interface and easy features were big attractions for a population that desired to spend as little as possible on data while getting the most information. However, the Nairaland front-end interface remained relatively unchanged for several years until late February of 2012. To the consternation of many users, the UI changed dramatically from its simple SMF design to something which, though was unfamiliar to its 863,000 members, did not actually depart radically from the original interface. The site has continued to maintain the same format today (as at 2017), with ads spots only reshuffled and all home texts bolded, as opposed to the part bolding that persisted on the previous interface.
At about this same time during its interface change, the site went from its brief experimentation with integrated Facebook “Likes” on user posts to its own designed “Like” links, available only to registered users. In its earlier years before 2012, it provided zero room or links for liking posts on threads. It also started an era of rule enforcement which saw errant posts reportable to moderators, who in turn were quick to ban erring members.
In October 2012, Nairaland hit its one millionth topic and in mid-January 2013 its one millionth member. According to one of the chief moderators, Mukina2, “by then the site had surpassed milestones on Google and also reclaimed its top spot in Nigeria and in Africa.” From a modest number of 15 in March 2005, the huge site served as home by 18 January 2013 for 1,000,299 members who had all created 1,102,286 topics among them. By this time, it was Nigeria’s biggest website and arguably Africa’s.
In June of the following year, Nairaland experienced perhaps its worst moment since inception. A possible malware attack took out the site entire content on 22 June 2014 in the famous Nairaland Crash of 2014. Social media and tech blogs went agog in announcing the unavailability of the site as they tried severally to access it. Its founder, Seun Osewa twitted at the time, “I am so sorry”, “it may be worse than you think.” It was in fact much worse: Its entire user base, site content and millions of posts had suddenly vanished from the internet, and after several days of recovery operations, the site could only restore as far back as December of 2013. In the end, posts made and users registered after 2013 were lost forever. A thoughtful backup the previous year saved an entire history of reflections, arguments, jokes, banter, diaries and stories. Nairaland returned determined to prevent reocurrence of such incidents.
Since its millionth member, Nairaland has grown at a steady average of 16000 members every month, while its topics climb by nearly 40,000 within the same period. The number of members has grown linearly, while topics have grown exponentially, since inception. With even more growth easily foreseeable, the site is likely to get to its 2 millionth member and 5 millionth thread by April or May of 2018. While it has been a slow evolution, it has certainly been a worthwhile one. Evidently, the site has come a long way, but certainly still has a great future ahead of it.