The Demise of orkut.com

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in the history of communication technology of the past decade or two, there are email, newsgroups, world wide web, commercialization of WWW, mailing lists, online forums, instant messaging, file sharing, blogs. Each of these began small-time and somewhat experimental, and became in various degrees indispensable in modern society.

when orkut.com started in Jan 2004, i thought it ushered another era of technology. Such a “social network”, where each user comes with a standard profile, is a significant improvement to mailings lists and online forums. Because, what plagues such forum is that people are more or less anonymous. There are a number of problems stemming from anonymity. People are prone to malicious posts, pranks, spams, and it is hard to introduce credibility even for sincere posts. Even in professional forums with longtime posters, friends and acquaintances are met only thru a very narrow professional setting. Mutual acquaintances may have known each other for years in a technical forum (such as computer programing forum), but only thru their written exchange on professional matters. Almost nothing is known of each other. Important in friendship making is a person's background, including: marital status, social status, personality outside profession, age, physicality, political tendencies, religion, or nationality. Online acquaintances may have began friendship-building thru interpersonal communication as periodic email, or perhaps chatted thru instant messaging, or perhaps a yearly greeting card thru postal mail, but the milieu to introduce each other to meet and become friends offline or exchange any personal info is lacking.

Orkut.com “social network” technology changed this. When orkut.com started in Jan, the first batch of people to sign up are mostly people in the computing industry. All of a sudden, long time online acquaintances are seen with a photo of themselves, along with many personal info required for friendship. Bare acquaintances suddenly became friends thru sharing of interests. Long lost acquaintances or ex-colleges appears on orkut with their profile, or thru friend of friends or co-workers links. In this social network setting, people naturally started to arrange off-line meetings for real-life friendship, as well as dating between man and women. On orkut.com's discussion forums, each post naturally comes with a photo ID tag. This automatically puts the writings or opinion of the poster in some context, as people can check his background. (anonymous posting is available as a option as well) Aside from some technical shortcomings such as lack of threading or search etc., this forum within a structure of non-anonymity with people's photo and real-life profile is a significant improvement in communication over mailing lists or other online forums.

A significant reason Orkut.com “social network” differs from other online forums that also feature user photo and personal profile lies in orkut.com's structure and purpose. For example,many blog sites such as livejournal.com also allow users to have photos and personal profiles. However, by the development and culture of its users, some 90% of the photo are cartoons or imagery, and personal profiles are online “persona” (⁖ Batman, Vampiress, node60091, …), reflecting little of the user's real-life profile. LiveJournal.com also requires the person to be a online diary writer to mix in well. As another example, the tech news forum slashdot.org. It also features profile for its users, with features as: friend, foe, fan lists, past posting, etc. By this forum's culture, the accounts and postings tend to be a macho-competition of computing nerds. Very few things there are sensible or outside of computing. As another example, there are numerous dating websites. The dating sites tend to have ephemeral users, because its purpose is for getting men and women to meet. It is more or less a glorified online personal ad. Narrow in scope as compared to the socialization human animals do throughout their lifetime.

Because orkut.com set out to be a “social network” with the goal of real-life friendship and partnership building, its organization and features prevents it from becoming a wild virtual fantasy world plagued by teens and students. For example, people are introduced to orkut.com thru those already on orkut.com, must login, and it stipulates that names and profiles and photos should not be fake.

During orkut.com's life from 2004 January to today 2004 August, the entire service seems to have devalued steadily. Its user base has grown rapidly to some 1 million plus people. For the last several months the traffic is so congested that it is almost impossible to login everyday except after midnight. These are small technical issues. The real problem is that its premise of social networking for people seems to have been eroded. Its user base has been plagued by teens and computing slackers, who have little interest in networking by profession or life-long friendship or sincere mate searching, but just another website where they can post their drivels and random potshots. They didn't come to orkut.com to befriend colleagues, seek professional partners, seek lost acquaintances, or formulate professional discourses or social congregations in forums. To them, now the majority, orkut.com is another website where they can assume their batman or princess fantasy, scribble and graffiti, and party, with their cartoon or animal profile photos and inane and empty personal profiles. As younsters and college freshmen, social networking don't surface during this stage of people's lives.

When such a service is filled with these morons, it devalues for people who are really using the service for what it is designed for. The useful forums cease meaningful activities, accounts are filled with spam, and real friends who are not computing-nerds decline to join in orkut.com.

How to save Orkut.com

The first step is to get rid of these morons or moronic behaviors, so that orkut.com is back into its social networking business for the society, ushering a technology that eventually may become indispensable and used by every person who go online. For example, instant messaging initially started as a geek tech as a messaging service between people using the same computer (unix), then it eventually got developed into inter-computer messaging (IRC) and picked up by commecial corporations such as AOL, Yahoo Inc, Microsoft's MSN. Today these busineses are beginning to announce plans of merging the different networks into one seamlessly inter-connected whole, and inevitably in the near future, facilitate human communication. Likewise, i foresee orkut.com and similar social-network sites such as friendster.com and a host of others might follow the same auspice.

It may be said that it is inevitable that as a website grows, it will eventually be filled with teens or computer nerds and time-glutted slackers and its values be bogged down by this ilk. This is not so. Although these people are most likely to hog novel web technologies, but a website will not necessarily become their mecca. This can be observed socially of the places teens congregate. For example, you will find them in night clubs, Starbucks snack lounge, shopping malls, parks. However, you'll not likely to see them loitering in, say, City Halls, museums, financial institutions. The gist lies in that certain places attracts certain people. City Halls are not filled with teens not because there are laws forbidding it, but because teens find it uninteresting (unhip). On the other hand, teens hangout at shopping malls not because shopping malls beckon their age in particular, but because those places attract them.

Similarly, for orkut.com to get rid of morons, it must be done by setting up a milieu that cultivate social networking, not by setting up rules to ban or forbid people or behaviors. So that naturally, lifeless and rowdy folks will shy away from using orkut.com because orkut.com ceases to be interesting to them, while, people who wish to social network for life outside of virtual reality will find orkut.com a attractive service.

More specifically, orkut.com must begin by deleting account that does not have a real first and last names, and accounts that does not have realistic profile photos. Both stipulations are already part of orkut “community standards”, firmly advocated in the beginning but gradually effete. Orkut.com must pursue this seriously and heavy-handedly, by perhaps dispatching employees full time at deleting any account that seems to have obvious bogus intentions. (perhaps by giving the account holder a 3-day warning. Or, do it cold-turkey but with a serious notification of when this will begin in weeks advance)

Regardless how this is done, but it must be done imperatively. Once the people on orkut get the idea that orkut is not for random fart, people will stop random farting and begin using it as a social networking service. The random farters will see orkut as something dry to their tastes, and will go back to their blog-space or other virtual reality land.

Once orkut got rid of user accounts that are not candid, it would be the primary step accomplished. What other steps can be decided by observing the aftermath, or not even necessary. There are great number of inane forums on orkut, usually consisting of only a few members, which would not have happened if orkut is filled with sincere friend builders, but these forums will probably wane. Other issues such as rampant thoughtless postings may also resolve itself when the orkut user base is cleansed. As orkut.com evolves, its technical improvement and features will of course help in other ways.

Director of orkut.com, where do you want Orkut to be tomorrow? A blog-space plus? or a important upcoming technology used by real people?

For info on the Orkut.com, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orkut

See also: Google+ Which Circle to Put Your Friends In; Google+ Real Name Account Debate

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