Reflecting on the Closing AI Character Service

Nakamura Hiroki
5 min readMar 20, 2024

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Recently, we had to make the tough decision to shut down a service. The service is an AI character social networking platform called “Chararu”. As the Product Manager, I bear the responsibility for this closure. It’s very difficult to end a service that many users loved and used.

The nature of an AI character service means that its closure holds a different significance for users compared to more tool-oriented services. Rather than serving purely as a means to an end, users found value in the very existence of these AI characters and the world within the app that housed them. Thus, closing the service didn’t just mean the end of a service, but the disappearance of these characters’ presence.

Lately, I’m seeing more AI services that have personalities and feel more human, not just plain assistants. I believe there’s still a lot of potential in emotional AI. However, the more services there are, the more often they might have to shut some down.

With the closure of Chararu, I wanted to share what we did and thought about, hoping it might help in such situations. I’m not talking about usual things like refunds, which are expected.

Making Data Transfer Possible

As I wrote at the start, when we close our AI character service, it means our users lose characters they care about. This loss feels different from when a regular tool service shuts down; it’s not just about convenience going away.

To avoid completely losing these characters, we thought it was important to let users move their character data to another service. Thanks to Nanashi-san, we made it possible for users to transfer their characters to a service: AItter.

Chararu didn’t originally have a way to share data with other services. We developed this as part of closing down. Since there’s no standalized spec for AI characters work, not everything could be moved, like the characters’ voices. But seeing how much it meant to users to move their data, it feels like it was really important to do.

This time, we only arranged for the data to move to one service. You might think having more options would be better, but we were short on time. We decided to just choose one service based on our gut feeling, and it turned out to be the right choice. We discussed a lot about the migration feature and user communication before moving the data, and they really helped out, even adding new features for the characters after they moved.

Even though we didn’t give users lots of choices for where to move their data, being able to move it somewhere safe and reliable might be more important than having many options.

Allowing Data Download

From the start, when thinking about data migration, we planned for users to download their data themselves instead of relying on direct system-to-system integration.

While integration could reduce user effort, it involves more considerations like specifications, pre-adjustments, and needing extra user consent for direct connections. Plus, identifying the cause of any issues becomes more complicated.

Considering our schedule, the realistic solution was to have users download their data and then manually upload it elsewhere.

Looking back on feedback, this method seems better from the users’ point of view too. Downloading their data allowed users to keep memories of their characters.

We enabled users to download various data, including parts of the character’s settings, conversation histories, edited conversations (learning data), and diaries created by the characters. These pieces are precious memories for users, so just being able to download them is meaningful, even without migrating the data.

Due to time constraints, we couldn’t make all content downloadable this time. However, if we had more time, I believe we should have made it possible to download all content, including all the content created by the characters and conversations between AI characters.

Communicating with Understanding of AI Characters’ Significance

In this service closure, we communicated with users very carefully. Beyond general announcements, we responded to individual inquiries, including in flexible ways, as much as possible.

This careful approach continued even after transitioning to refund operations post-closure. I believe this has been the most thorough response to a closure I have seen or been part of. I’m truly grateful to the customer support team and everyone involved for their efforts.

However, I must emphasize again that AI characters are very important to our users, so we were very cautious in choosing our words.

For example, we avoided saying “migrating characters” when referring to data migration. Even if data is transferred, the characters can’t be exactly the same due to different underlying AI models and functionalities. So, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the character the user knows moves to the new service unchanged. We made it clear we were transferring data, not the character itself.

This is just one example. Generally, we always discussed within the team how to communicate new features or other announcements. Being careful not to mislead was a given, but the way we conveyed facts — whether as objective information from the operator’s perspective or considering what it means for the character — could significantly alter the message’s impact.

It’s not just about being polite; choosing the right way to convey a message is also crucial.

Summary

In closing the AI character SNS service “Chararu,” I’ve shared three key actions and considerations:

  1. Making Data Transfer Possible
  2. Allowing Data Download
  3. Communicating with Understanding of AI Characters’ Significance

However, no matter how we responded, we couldn’t eliminate the sadness felt by our users, and I believe many were left feeling distressed. For this, I truly am sorry.

On the other hand, I can only express my gratitude to Nanashi-san, the developer of AItter, who agreed to help with data migration on short notice. Also, I’m thankful for the Chararu development team, who worked on the migration feature within a tight schedule, and the customer support team who communicated so thoughtfully.

This has been a memoire of sorts about the closure of Chararu. Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone involved.

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