This is it, dear readers! The last of the Off Brand blog posts! Wow, who knew we’d survive this long? (I’m sure you knew, you’re very clever.) Anyway! Today we’re talking about Orkut! And if you’re anything like me, your response to that will be, “What’s Orkut?” Oh, we are going to cover that and more. Strap in for a dramatic tale of the rise and fall of a social media platform! Okay, not really, it’s not that dramatic, but if you’re already strapped in that’s fine.
Venture back with me to the year 2004. Usher was breaking records on the Billboard Hot 100, the Summer Olympics were back in Greece, the EU was expanding, and Google launched its first social media platform, Orkut, named after the Google engineer who created it, Orkut Büyükkökten. Orkut was a result of Google’s 20% Rule, a policy that was implemented when Google went public the same year. “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” explained founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Orkut started as a gathering place for A-list tech heads and branched out from there. It was invite only, and attracted a lot of initial interest thanks to Google’s reputation. Orkut’s focus was on connecting people, and they promoted the use of communities within the program. You could rate your friends for different traits, and this became somewhat competitive in the larger communities. Orkut initially allowed everyone to view everyone else’s profiles, but eventually implemented more privacy features to give control of that to the users. The interface went through a number of changes over the years, but they focused on keeping things clean and simple. You could feature 9 top friends on your profile (originally 8), similar to MySpace.
Brazil and India
Orkut saw its greatest success in Brazil, where the platform just took off, with India following in second place. At its peak, the platform had 30 million users. Brazil has emerged as a strong market for online retailers, and the communities on Orkut as well as the ability to recommend businesses and products appealed to Brazilian audiences.
Orkut also introduced themes. For example, on Diwali, in India, a “Happy Diwali” message would pop up and allow user to change their interface to a Diwali inspired theme. Themes were only available to Brazilian and Indian users – there was not enough of a market elsewhere.
More People More Problems
The downside of Orkut never taking off outside of certain markets was that Orkut never really stopped being a 20% Rule project. As a result, as Orkut began to run into the problems you would expect from a social media platform – fake accounts, hate groups, worms and viruses, issues with bandwidth and file sharing – there was not a large dedicated team taking care of these problems like you would find on Facebook or Twitter (and even then, let’s be honest, no one has found a good solution for the hate groups problem).
Orkut also found itself contending with bans. Iran, Saudia Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all banned Orkut for issues of “national security,” and also for promoting promiscuity and making it easy for people to join communities focused on casual sex. Sorry, “ethical and moral issues.” Bahrain was under pressure to ban the platform as well. Proxies for Orkut were created so that users in these countries could still access the platform, but those proxies were difficult to access for anyone who wasn’t particularly tech savvy, and eventually those proxies all got taken down.
The Fall and the Future
In September of 2014, Orkut was retired. Google engineering director Paulo Golgher said in the announcement: “Over the past decade, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut’s growth, we’ve decided to bid Orkut farewell.” Now, we won’t talk about what happened to Google+ right now (Google just can’t seem to crack the social media code). The point is, despite the people who still loved it and used it, Orkut was no longer viable, and had to be put down.
What’s interesting is a recent turn of events. The Orkut website has been reactivated. Currently, all that sits there is a letter from Orkut Büyükkökten that says the following:
I’m Orkut. Seventeen years ago I started a little social network while I was an engineer at Google. In just a few years, that social network – orkut.com – grew to a community of over 300 million people.
I believe that orkut.com found a community because it brought so many diverse voices from around the world together in one place. We worked hard to make orkut.com a community where hate and disinformation were not tolerated. We worked hard to make orkut.com a community where you could go meet real people who shared your interests, not just people who liked and commented on your photos.
The world needs kindness now more than ever. There is so much hate online these days, and our options for finding and building real connections are few and far between. I’ve always believed that a friendship is more than a friend request, and I have dedicated my life to helping millions of you build authentic connections with your neighbors, family members, employees and the beautiful strangers who come into your lives.
Our online tools should serve us, not divide us. They should protect our data, not sell it. They should give us hope, not fear and anxiety. The best social network is the one that enriches your life but that doesn’t manipulate it. I want you to be able to be your true self, online and off. I want you to be able to make connections that stick. I want to help you do that with all my heart.
I’m an optimist. I believe in the power of connection to change the world. I believe that the world is a better place when we get to know each other a little bit more. It’s why I created the world’s first social network when I was a grad student at Stanford. It’s why I brought orkut.com to so many of you around the world. And it’s why I am building something new. See you soon!
Sign up below for updates, and be the first to know about it.
There is field to sign up, and nothing else on the site at this time. That’s pretty recent activity, though, so who knows what future Orkut has? Maybe it will rise up from its grave. Maybe it will be something completely different. One way or another, it will be interesting to see if Orkut and his team have learned their lessons, and if Google will finally produce a social media site that can compete with Facebook and Twitter.