Orkut was once a social networking site that was owned and operated by Google – with the vision for the site to rival the success of the likes of Facebook and Myspace. Like many other social networks, Orkut was designed to help users meet new friends, while providing a platform to allow users to maintain existing relationships. The site was named after its creator – Orkut Buyukkokten, a Google employee. Despite initial success, Orkut didn’t succeed in the long run, with Google eventually prioritising the growth of Google+ over Orkut in the social media sphere. In this article, we look at what went wrong.
Orkut was launched in 2004 by Google. The launch followed a period of extensive development by Orkut Buyukkokten – a Google employee who had worked independently on the project. Orkut was available all around the world, but gained particular traction in the United States, India and Brazil. While its popularity eventually waned in the US, it remained popular in both India and Brazil for many years.
Orkut had an interesting set of features. Unlike many social networks which require users to be connected in order for profiles to be viewed (e.g. Facebook friend request), Orkut users could see anyone’s profile. Users could rank their friends from 1 to 3 on trustworthiness, coolness and sexiness. Users could also embed YouTube videos, and share other multimedia content, which friends could in turn react to. Each profile had a scrapbook – which was similar to a Facebook wall, with users able to leave comments on one another’s scrapbook.
Orkut never really managed to hit the traffic levels that Myspace and Bebo had around the same time. Several problems affected the site. Despite gaining popularity in Iran, the site was eventually blocked by the Government. The same happened in both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Straight away a large number of users had their access to the site denied. There were also cases of hate groups congregating on Orkut, with the site being criticised for doing little to bring some content under control.
Further issues came in the form of malicious computer viruses. A worm rapidly spread around Orkut, which compromised users’ banking details, usernames and passwords. The worm had been spread by a JPEG file, which was widely shared on the site. This wasn’t the only security concern, with others following. While other social networks at the time had concerns over malicious software, Orkut’s platform appeared to be particularly vulnerable.
Orkut also faced some legal issues. The creator of the site’s former employer claimed some code and elements of the idea had been stolen. India also accused Google of allowing a hate campaign against the nation to be present on the site. This was due to a community called ‘We Hate India’ being on the site, which featured anti-Indian content. Fake profiles were also an issue, with one double-murder case being linked to fake profiles on Orkut. Again, Orkut was criticised.
Orkut also fell foul of Brazil. Brazil ordered Google to release information pertaining to 24 Brazilian nationals, who had been accused of using Orkut’s platform to sell drugs, while being involved in child pornography. Google refused to release the information, stating that because the information was on servers based in the US, that Google were exempt from Brazilian law. These different problems mounted up, and with Facebook and Twitter rapidly gaining in popularity, Orkut struggled.
In the end, Google announced the closure of Orkut – with the service ceasing to operate in September 2014. While Orkut struggled to attract users in the wake of various problems, the real reason behind their demise was the rise of other social networks – namely Facebook and Twitter. Orkut were far from the only social network to struggle in that respect. Google meanwhile put their social network efforts into Google+, which proved more popular than Orkut, but still some way off of Facebook.