The Orkut social networking website is similar in many ways to other social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, though it is primarily used in Brazil and India. As Google is the owner and operator of Orkut, this social network integrates many of Google's features and properties like YouTube. It is also integrated with GTalk, Google's instant messaging service, tying in directly with a user's existing set of email contacts.
Evolution of Orkut
Orkut started out as an independent project by Orkut Buyukokten, a Turkish software engineer who was working at Google. It was then adopted by Google itself and named after its original creator. The initial user base was largely in the United States, which made up over 51% of the traffic in March 2004. This was despite being an invitation-only social network for the first year.
After the site's first year, Brazil adopted the Orkut social networking service and quickly passed the United States in terms of usage. Brazilian users stuck to their native language, Portuguese, instead of using English. The percentage of users in the U.S. dropped dramatically and soon most of Orkut's registered users were from Brazil.
As of April 2012, according to Alexa.com, Brazil is the largest user of Orkut, accounting for over 62% of the site's traffic. The second-highest user base is India, which accounts for nearly 20% of traffic. Combined, Brazil and India account for over 80% of the overall traffic at Orkut. As such, the main reason why someone would want to use Orkut is to communicate with people in these countries.
While Orkut continues to be operational, its popularity is declining. BBC reported that Facebook overtook Orkut as the top social network in Brazil in the spring of 2012.
Many of the features found in Orkut are similar to those found on other similar social networking sites. This is because the inherent feature of social networks is to allow users to meet friends, communicating with them through instant messaging or through public status updates. Some key features include:
- A "Scrap" in a user's "scrapbook" is equivalent to a post on a Facebook user's wall. A scrap is HTML-enabled, allowing for the inclusion of videos and images, as well as links to outside content.
- The Changing Themes feature allows users to change their interface by selecting from a number of options in the theme library. Themes are only available in Brazil, India and Pakistan.
- All profiles are public by default unless a visitor is on that user's specific "Ignore" list.
- Each friend can be rated on three characteristics: (1) trustworthy, (2) cool and (3) sexy. Each of these characteristics can be given a rating of between one and three stars. Percentages are compounded and listed as other friends give and receive ratings.
- A "Crush List" lets you add a friend that you have a crush on. If your friend also adds you, then Orkut sends messages to both of you letting you know that you're on each other's Crush List.
- Another feature is that when you log into Orkut, your friends who have most recently logged in are listed, letting you know who might be on or when they were on last.
- The "like" button works much like Facebook, publicly indicating that you "like" a certain status update or post from a friend.
- As mentioned above, the instant messaging service is integrated with the existing GTalk platform from Google.
As with other social networks, the main reason why someone would want to use Orkut is because their friends are already on there. This is a big reason why Orkut continues to be popular in India and Brazil, as many of the users are from those countries and, thus, their friends are also on Orkut.
The Arrival of Google+
When Google+ was launched in June 2011, many people thought that this would spell the end of Orkut. After all, why would Google operate two social networks in parallel? However, Google has decided to support both networks at the same time, at least for the time being.
As of November of 2012, though, Google has implemented some steps that appear to encourage Orkut users to migrate completely to Google+.
- According to The Next Web, in May 2012, Google started allowing Orkut users to link to their profiles to their Google+ accounts.
- What this means is that any updates and posts can be shared on both networks simultaneously. The same name and same profile picture are then used on both accounts.
- This poses a challenge since many of Orkut's users don't use their real names on the network. Using pseudonyms infringes on the "common name policy" on Google+ that requires users to use their real names.
Orkut has been a popular site for spammers and virus writers to attack, as is true with other social networking sites.
- MW.ORC worm: One of the earlier attacks involved the MW.ORC worm in 2006. As users selected a JPEG photo file, a program was launched that installed two files on the user's computer. This worm collected all kinds of personal information from the computer including banking details, as well as user IDs and passwords. Then, once the My Computer icon was double-clicked, the program would email everything obtained to the creator.
- Scrap worms: When the "Scrap" feature was added, which allowed for HTML code to be posted on a user's page, hackers took advantage of the many latent vulnerabilities. One of the fastest spreading worms was called the KutWormer, reported on by The Washington Post. When a user clicked on a link that was posted in the "Scrap" box, they were unknowingly joining a virus community than then copied itself through each of the user's friends' scrapbooks.
There appear to be fewer reports of viruses, worms and other security issues on Orkut today, but new threats could arise at any time, not unlike any other social network on the Internet.
Is Orkut Worth Joining?
Given that over 80% of Orkut's user base is in India and Brazil, the only reason why someone would want to join Orkut is to interact with friends specifically in those two countries. Most of the content in Orkut is in Portuguese, because of the large Brazilian user base, so people who cannot understand the language will be completely lost. While there is certainly some value to joining Orkut in terms of learning about the Brazilian or Indian culture, most users would likely benefit more from doing their social networking on alternative sites like Facebook and Google+.