Reposted from the shapado site. My answer got so long I thought I should post it somewhere with a larger audience.
http://tokipona.shapado.com/questions/h ... w-this-big
jan Sonja is a master of online social networking and used livejournal, irq, yahoo mailing lists to connect to hundreds of people world wide, many of those were Esperantists. The typical Esperantists is a talented polyglot. So when the idea of a new simple language came along, relationships were already in place with an audience of likely fans.
jan Sonja also realized that wikipedia is a type of social network and particpated in that as well, leading to someone creating a toki pona article and for a while, a toki pona Wikipedia. Both of these irritated some people on wikipedia. Also, wikipedia has a rule that you can’t have an article unless your material is notable and has 3rd party sources. This motivated jan Sonja to contact the media and ended up with a radio appearance in Canada and most importantly a large LA Times article. The toki pona wikipedia was closed and migrated, but the toki pona article stayed up. Since then, the article survived multiple deletion attempts and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, giving it an hard to match advantage compared to other constructed languages which generally can’t get into Wikipedia for lack of 3rd party sources.
The language has some structural features that help, but in my opinion are less important. For example, the language is fairly small, reasonably complete relative to it’s initial goals, easy to learn, work okay in some limited scenarios.
Also, since jan Sonja used Irc to communicate with initial fans and published a lesson set early on, there were enough materials to learn the language’s core fairly quickly.
Finally, like many successful conlangs, they attracted at least two or three hard core fans and the creator didn’t have any obvious problem with the hard core fans. Namely jan Pije, who wrote the current cannonical lesson set which jan Sonja promised but never delivered on, also jan Kipo, who has been the grammarian and tutor since 2005. In toki pona’s case, jan Sonja has very little friction with the hard core fans because jan Sonja has largely been absent from the community since about 2002 or so, with a few short bursts of activity.
And that neglect isn’t necessarily bad. In fact because of this neglect, toki pona has been largely stable and evolving very slowly. Had jan Sonja created ten more similar languages, or radically changed or expanded the language, I suspect the community would be much smaller.