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The Orkut Karma

Even today any kidnapping, bomb blast or just about anything wrong happens Orkut directly or indirectly gets into the news. Puneet Mehrotra tells us more.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2008 19:40 IST

"Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered." Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde perhaps never realized how almost 108 years after his death his popularity is every growing. If Oscar Wilde was a maestro of intellect, the lord of seekers of our generation, Google too is posed with a similar problem. The problem of its child Orkut suffering from popularity.

A Problem called Popularity
When was the last time you heard about Orkut in news? Was it Dr Kidney Savage's social network on Orkut or was it hates mongering around The Mahatma. Or maybe you missed both then perhaps you may remember the Adnan case where allegedly
the kidnappers made friends with Adnan on Orkut. Even today any kidnapping, bomb blast or just about anything wrong happens Orkut directly or indirectly gets into the news.

Why don't other social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace or half a dozen of its Indian counterparts get dragged into controversies? Why only Orkut?

The Price of Popularity
As Internet gets pervasive and bandwidth reaching even places where electricity has just about recently touched the real India is now logging on. A netizen's lifecycle starts with opening an email account and among the priorities is connecting with their friends and family dispersed around all around. A social networking site serves the purpose just fine without any major costs involved. In India the social network of choice is Orkut. Though there isn't any definitive survey but most likely Orkut would get one of the highest brand recalls considering its popularity. Drive down to any Internet café in metros, in small towns, in cities or just about anywhere Orkut is one of most browsed sites.

Worldwide too India gets a high rank in terms of Orkut popularity. According to Vinay Goel, Head of Products, Google India, "Among social networking sites Orkut is the most popular destination in India." He goes on to add, "While worldwide Brazil has the maximum no of Orkut users, India comes to a close second."

Is Orkut really the bad child?
Is it time for parents to really keep Orkut in the taboo sites for their children? Has Orkut just lost it and it's time govt bans it? Perhaps to answer this it would only be proper to look at a more holistic picture. In our generation the World Wide Web and Internet serves as the biggest information bank ever in human history. The rule is simple you get what you want. You attract the information of your choice. Last year a survey quoted 42 percent of Internet users have viewed sexual images. Does it make Internet bad?

The Bright Side of Orkut
Is the press obsessed with bad news or has postmortems become the favorite hobby rather than creation? How many of us have heard of some of the creative uses of social networks? Since Orkut has been the one in the dock presenting two cases you may or may not have heard of depending on your inclination.

Remember the Alisha Chinai song Made in India that opened the space for pop music in India, but do you remember who wrote the lyrics? The name is Shyam Anuragi. He has also to his credit composed over 500 songs. He was on dialysis and had lost his eyesight. The family needed funds for his medical treatment and believe it or not, in this time of trouble, Orkut provided a solution. A simple little network worked for him perfectly fine.

Take another case of a young man who created a called community called Eye Donation. This good citizen used Orkut for facilitating organ donation. A great role model for social networks.

Is all well with Orkut?
The above examples, both the good and the bad, are a reflection of us in Orkut. But is all well with Orkut? Perhaps not. Orkut was designed for a perfect world where everything was beautiful, where peeping Toms didn't sneak into other messages and only your own friends viewed your pictures. Or was Google plain naïve when it designed Orkut? We still haven't reached the Golden Age where we live with our doors and windows open or make love in public and passersby simply shower their blessings!

Believe it or not security is a concern and Orkut ranks low on it. Privacy is a concern too, though they have made some recent changes around this but it's still a long way to go. While Google India's Vinay Goel insists "Security is very high on Orkut agenda." He adds "Last year we launched the privacy feature in scrap book where a user can allow visibility of his scraps to a set of people."

Orkut also lacks in innovation. While Vinay insists innovation is always happening in Orkut but the fact besides little features added here and there nothing really major has happened. What was the last great innovation in Orkut? Vinay gives few instances like "There was a need from users to increase pictures so we increased it from 12 to 1000. There was also an addition of a feature called Ask Friends, where you could get various opinions from friends." What about an eco-system or applications created around Orkut? They have something called OpenSocial (a dud in my view) for that but that itself yet to gain momentum but that's another story another time.

The Last Word
The fault is not with Orkut, it's simply paying the price for being the most popular social network. The fears around its usage are simply not just far fetched but unwarranted. Having said that Orkut should be in the dock for clearing lacking in innovation and resembling anything but a gen-next social network. Walt Disney put it rather well when he said "When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it's because he's so human; and that is the secret of his popularity."

(Puneet Mehrotra writes on technology. www.thebusinessedition.com)