Google's First Social Network: Orkut

Orkut
Google Inc.

Editor's note: This article remains for archival purposes only. Here is more information about companies killed by Google.

Google had a social network. No, it's not Google+. Or Google Buzz. The original Google social network was Orkut. Google killed Orkut in September 2014. The site caught on in Brazil and India, but it was never a big hit in the U.S., and Google never really nurtured the product the same way they did Google+

Orkut was a social networking tool designed to help you maintain your friendships and meet new friends. Orkut was named after its original programmer, Orkut Buyukkokten. Until September 2014, you could find Orkut at http://www.orkut.com. Now there's an archive.

Getting Access

Orkut was initially available by invitation only. You had to be invited by someone with a current Orkut account to set up your account. There were over twenty-two million users, so there was a good chance you already knew a user. Eventually, Google opened the product for everyone, but, again, the service was closed for good in 2014. 

Creating a Profile

Orkut’s profile was divided into three categories: social, professional, and personal. 

You could specify whether profile information was private, friends only, available to friends of your friends, or available to everyone. 

Friends

The whole point of social networking is to create a network of friends. In order to list someone as a friend, you had to list them as a friend and they had to confirm it, just like Facebook. You could rate the level of your friendship, from “never met” to “best friends.” 

You could also rate your friends with smiley faces for trustworthiness, ice cubes for coolness, and hearts for sexiness. The number of smileys, ice cubes, and hearts someone had were visible on their profile, but not the source of the ratings. 

Testimonials, Scrapbooks, and Albums

Each user had a scrapbook where brief messages could be left by themselves and others. In addition, users could send each other “testimonials” which appeared under the user’s profile. Each user also had an album, where they could upload photos. This is much like Facebook's wall. Eventually, this function evolved into something more like Facebook's wall. In fact, there was very little about Orkut to differentiate it, other than the fact that it didn't get updates at nearly the same rate as Google's other products. 

Communities

Communities are places where you can gather and find people of like interests. Anyone can create a community, and they can specify the category and whether joining is open to anyone or moderated.

Communities allow discussion postings, but each post is limited to 2048 characters. The community can also maintain a group calendar, so members could add events, such as dates of social gatherings.

Trouble in Paradise

Orkut is plagued with spam, mostly in Portuguese, because Brazilians make up the majority of Orkut users. Spammers often make spam postings to communities and sometimes flood communities with repeated messages. Orkut has a "report as bogus" system to report spammers and other violations of the terms of service, but problems persist.

Orkut is often sluggish, and it’s not unusual to see the warning message, "Bad, bad server. No donut for you.”

The Bottom Line

The Orkut interface is more pleasant and cleanly designed than comparable Friendster or Myspace. The large Brazilian population also gives it a more international feel. It also feels special to be invited, rather than just allowing anyone to register an account.

However, problems with server down times and spam may make the alternatives more appealing. Google Beta is usually a higher standard than the traditional beta. Orkut, however, really feels like a beta.