In short, I am an older Gaian who has been there and done that and then some.
I have done a lot of Questing, done a lot of Donating (to both Gaia way back when and to Gaians themselves), chatted in the Chatterbox, ridden the flow of the Exchange, played with the Marketplace, participated in the forums, caught both fish and junk, gone Trick-or-Treating, attended Gaia Anniversaries, chased after NPCs, ran around zOMG... the list goes on.
All in all, I have watched Gaia grow from Go Gaia - only a few shelves of items, servers named after the NPCs (I miss you, Sasha and Ian!), gold farming via Chatterbox, supported through donations - to what it is now - Gaia Online - and I would like to say that I have grown along with it.
When I first started with Go Gaia, Gaia was one of the first of its kind to offer the things that it did. Run by support from the userbase and the creators' own pockets, Go Gaia was a smaller community at the time and it felt like it and ran like it.
Unlike today, there was less of a division between the newbies and the oldbies and I credit that to the fact that there was pretty much only one way to earn gold (not including vending, which was a new thing at the time as Trading Passes were new).
Regardless if you were a newbie or a vet to the system, everyone earned gold the same way - by spamming the Chatterbox and other relevant forums and creating threads that went on for miles.
For this reason I think, there was more empathy to go around as everyone knew what it felt like to earn gold and everyone's good-natured complaints were shared by all. For this reason, too, it wasn't unusual at the time for a poorer Gaian to donate to a richer Gaian's Quest - something that almost never happens anymore.
For this reason, too, Gaians also donated to Gaia itself with a spirit of giving - for the sake of giving back to the people who made this place possible.
Gaians were struggling to earn enough gold to purchase a Complex Shirt. The staff members were struggling to fund their servers to keep Gaia open for us the Gaians to play in.
We weren't in the same boat, but we sure were in similar boats. Thus, we all shared the paddles.
In short, Gaia was a community where Gaians and Staff mutually supported each other and that sense of all-around community and cohesion is something that I don't think I will ever forget.
I guess, then, that it comes to no surprise that when Gaia started going commercial and Thank You Letters became Monthly Collectibles and a CEO was announced, I packed my bags up and left.
The change was a big shock to me and admittedly, it was because of my sentimental attachments towards Gaia in relation to what Gaia had come to mean to me.
The spirit of giving and sharing and community that I had grown so fond of was now becoming commercialized and after I said my piece in a letter I left in a thread posted in Site Feedback, I abandoned my account.
Now that some time has passed and now that I have gotten used to all the new makeup and finery that adorns Gaia, I have realized - truly realized - that change was and is simply inevitable and that by not returning, I was simply being stubborn and holding on to old ideals.
This isn't to say that I completely agree to all the changes because honestly, I still don't, but I can say now that I at least UNDERSTAND it and that when I see an Enchanted Wooden Trunk hopping around, I can realize that in some ways that are still important to me, maybe Gaia didn't change so much after all.
The Chatterbox is still there for Gaians to spam and all those mysterious boxes and trunks are still floating around, waiting to be discovered.
Though more divided than what I remember, the sense of community and giving can still be found.
And though there is no more 'donating' to Gaia, I can still say 'thank you' albeit in a more commercialized manner.
At this point, then, there is not much left to say except,
"Go Gaia, GO!"