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A Google venture too far?

Updated 3.2.2004

Considered appraisals
Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life, David Weinberger, Life with Alacrity.

*********************** Original posting ***********************

The wires are buzzing with news of Orkut, a social software/on-line community initiative 'in affiliation with Google'. Variously reported (see here, here and here), and sparking some strong comment: GigaOm says,

this recent development scares the living daylights out of me. ... I think Google is positioning itself to pretty much know everything about everyone. You can do phone number look-ups, you can do reverse phone number look-ups, Google someone and get all you need to know about them. And now with this service, you can even track down their friends. Or as the sceptic in me likes to think: triangulate a person on the web.

Links: thanks to Many-to-Many.

Anil Dash notes with surprise that Google is 'funding this guy making a name for himself in the social networking space'. Nova Spivack has two postings about Orkut. David Galbraith asks if sites like Orkut should own your profile: 'OK- this is not unusual, even if aggressively worded, but considering that Orkut has a great deal more personal profiling than most social network tools, isn't it about time that people started an identity system where people actually owned their own identity. Think how useful it is for Google to have your personal profile in order to target ads at you, particularly as they go after the $25 billion yellow pages advertising market. People are giving valuable information away for free as part of a game.' thesocialsoftwareweblog has this post: 'Orkut has implemented a “Karma” system, where you can rate your connections in three different categories Cool, Sexy and Trustworthy. Make no mistake about it, this is pretty unique at the moment. Most of the other sites have “testimonial” sections where you can write nice things about the person in a free form text field. Orkut however appears to be the first to provide a rating scale that can then be compiled and the statistics used for *other* purposes. The key to the karma system will be…what “other” purposes it will be used for and will Google ask for permission to use it or assume ownership of the data. Just a few of the questions that we’ll have to wait and find out about.' Liz Lawley: 'Bottom line for me? I think Orkut has the makings of a really interesting environment, melding the best aspects of other YASNs, and giving it the Google brand of respectability to help it go mainstream. But the silent deletion of users, communities, and posts could be deadly. I’d hate to see the site fall on its own sword this early.' Don Park has two postings, here and here: 'what invitation-only means is that everyone who is a member of Orkut knows Orkut himself through a string of friends. It means you have joined a six-degree of separation experiment where the starting end is Orkut Buyukkokten. I'll bet that was why it was named Orkut.' Dare Obasanjo: 'There are acquaintances, friends and folks I'd die for. Lumping them all into one uber-category called friends just doesn't jibe with me. I'll play with the site some more later today but I doubt I'll be on it for long.' Netmeme: 'Orkut appears to be Google's debut into the social networking scene. ... these sites do tend to spring up like weeds and not long after they do, the email invites start rolling in from my usual friends and acquaintances. The very same folks who, it turns out, I exchange email with, call, IM, hang out, see at conferences, and generally just keep in touch with periodically. Get the picture? These sites aren't adding anything to my life; they're just moving mobs around from URL to URL. On the flipside though, Orkut is Google, after all, and it appears to have the gravitational pull you'd expect of Google's de facto standard-setting power. It'll be interesting to watch, although in today's rough form, it's not very impressive.' thesocialsoftwareweblog has a round-up of some other reaction and comments.

Death of Orkut?
Ross Mayfield posts in Many-to-Many: 'Before we could learn to pronounce it, it was shut down.' Wittily re-naming it (posthumously?) Oogle, he goes on to say: 'Orkut doesn’t work because it lacks constraints. Nothing holds people back. Nobody knows what a friend means. No social capital on the line. Its so fun and easy, choices and incentives are irrational.' A link from Mayfield's post takes us to rafer.net, whose main page has much new about Orkut (including a suggestion that reports of its death may be much exaggerated) and which notes that, 'A little back-of-the-envelope analysis will suffice: orkut.com is the most fully featured social network in existence; it grew from almost zero to serving (probably) 3MM+ pages per day over the last 4 days. That is a lot of work. Google clearly studied Friendster and avoided the Traveling Salesforce Problems there by taking a few, almost unnoticeable, shortcuts; there still must be six people at their hosting site doing nothing but adding new server nodes 7x24. Or, they provisioned a couple hundred machines in advance. Orkut is clearly a brilliant individual, and orkut.com is the greatest display of online market power anyone has ever seen. But it wasn't the work of one man anytime in the last several months.' And Alexa has this astonishing graph for Orkut's traffic ranking.

And now, Orkut is back!