Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t been replying to your messages on orkut any more. I still exist there, but am not “active” by any stretch of imagination. I check my account once in a long while, when I’m feeling really bored. And make a conscious decision not to reply to scraps there, since doing so will invite more scraps, which I don’t want. I haven’t deleted my account since I’m told that doing so will remove from my GTalk friends list those people who’ve been added because of Orkut.
Speaking to other people, I find similar stories. Most people have either deleted their orkut accounts, or just let them go dormant. Of course this doesn’t include people who occasionally scrap me over there. Oh, and btw, most people are still around on facebook. I know one guy (POTA) who deleted his facebook account but apart from that, most people are still around. So what exactly went wrong with orkut?
1. Fransips: Orkut allowed you to send messages/scraps to whoever you wanted to, irrespective of whether they knew you or not. In the initial stage, when people were rediscovering themselves and their networks, this was a fantastic facility. But once that got completed, it was used by random fransip-seekers, which drove most women away from orkut. And once the women went away, the “good guys” followed them out.
2. Random names: Orkut allowed people to change their display names very easily, and this turned out to be a huge problem. Some day, you’d get a scrap from someone with first name “going to” and second name “california” (with lots of periods and exclamations punctuating the name) and it would take a huge effort to figure out who had messaged you. It is easy dealing with standard nicknames but when people start naming themselves after something that doesn’t make any sense, and hten proceed to change their names every few days, it does get disconcerting.
3. There was nothing to do: Once the initial network-rediscovering face was done, there was nothing one could “do” on orkut. Yeah, about a year back they introduced the concept of applications and stuff, but that was more in response to facebook after the latter had drawn away most of Orkut’s users. Orkut allowed you to write scraps on friends. It allowed you to write rediff-level comments on discussion boards. It allowed you to find random women and seek franship. But that was that. Nothing to do on a sustainable basis.
4.Lack of privacy There was absolutely no privacy on orkut. Everyone could see what you did, who you talked to, what photos you put, where you had been, and in essesnce your entire life history. This, combined with the fransip seekers meant that people “shut down” on orkut. Away went the interesting pictures. Scraps would get deleted. Everyone suddenly became “committed”. People basically started lying, and hiding information. There was no way a forum that encouraged this could help sustain “keeping in touch”.
5. Spam Orkut stupidly allowed some stupid scripts to be run, and so on new year’s day 2008, i had a hundred messages on my scrapbook, all of them having been generated by some stupid script. Orkut had ceased to be personal. You could write a script which would write “hello world” on all your friends’ scrapbooks.
Once the balance had tipped towards facebook, there was no looking back towards Orkut. Orkut tried some themes, which ended up making people’s pages very gaudy indeed. The photo tagging tool was added, but navigation was tough. They tried to introduce a friend feed, but most of the feed was taken up by random thrid party apps. Over the course of the last one year, orkut has kept getting progressively worse.
If you look at it, some of hte features of orkut that enabled it to fail recently were what made it so popular in the early days (2004-07). In that golden age for orkut, people were busy reconnecting. Finding lost friends and relatives. You would crawl through entire friends’ lists in order to find that special friend who you had lost touch with. And you found dozens of them every day. It was incredible. People who you hardly talked to in school suddenly became close “orkut friends”. New relationships were built. New bonds were made. And then you realized that you had gotten back in touch with practically everyone you’ve known. Orkut was of no use to you any more.
I think there is a business school case study waiting to be written over here – about what made and broke Orkut. And it can be used in that session in corporate strategy class where they teach that your greatest strengths can turn into your greatest weaknesses.