Back in 2005-06, things were different. Birthdays were remembered; photo sharing happened at someone’s place with people crowding around a monitor; and friends generally didn’t say wonderful, flattering things to each other’s face. That was life before Orkut, the first social network for many in India.
Was Orkut the first social network? Nope, successful ones like MySpace already existed by the time Orkut came along. But it was certainly the first one to gain a large user base in India. And boy was it popular. Of course, its popularity was rather short-lived due to the quick, tectonic shift to Facebook by a large number of people. But for me, and many others I’m sure, Orkut was the first social networking experience. And now (unsurprisingly) Google is shutting down the deserted social network on September 30th.
As a teenager just out of high school, the impact of the social network was substantial. A lot of new acquaintances suddenly became ‘friends’ and started sharing stuff. Posting ‘scraps’ on each others profiles became a thing. A very weird thing actually. Why did I have to say things to a friend ‘in public’, where everyone could eavesdrop? I didn’t have to, but I did, just like most of my friends. Many people (I’m guilty as well) had weird profile names; a crazy fad where you used the first and last name fields to write messages. I think this continued even after Orkut added a status field. Fan groups were also quite popular with Orkut. People created pages for everything and everyone; a trend that still continues in Facebook today.
And then there was the rating system! If I recall correctly, people ‘rated’ friends on three ‘parameters’: friendliness, attractiveness and coolness. If that isn’t cringeworthy, I’m not sure what is. But people did it anyways! No wonder Google hasn’t been too successful at social networking (even though they did take down the ‘ratings’ feature). But the most important, and fun feature was the ability to write testimonials for friends. And of course, having your friends write one for you. In fact, testimonials were so popular that back then there were Facebook add-ons for testimonials! Not that they became popular (thankfully).
Orkut tried. Maybe not too hard, but they changed their interface, style and privacy controls to stop users from moving to Facebook. It was born out of the ‘20% project time’ at Google where employees can work on something other than their job responsibilities. And you somehow got the feeling that Google always treated it that way. It would have been interesting if Google was serious about social back then. But they weren’t, and they’re still paying the price for that today.
Social networks have certainly had an impact on our lives. And Orkut was the first one for many of us. While it won’t be missed, it will be remembered for sure. So if you want to download and save those first, awkward social moments, pictures, and other things, Google has provided a way to do so. Save them! They’ll be fun to look at a couple of decades from now. After 30th September, there’s no donut for you 🙂
– 0Mk@r ~ OrKut R0cK$
P.S. – That was never my profile name on Orkut.