Orkut: The ticket to virtual friendship
It could well be termed the opium of the Internet masses - such is the addiction of the Orkut web-based community that has evolved into a virtual alternative online world.
Take the case of science undergraduate Rajeev Krishnan. He says his addiction to Orkut has taken a "serious toll" on his leisure time.
So much has Orkut seeped into Krishnan's system that he spends more than three hours a day with the community - at the cost of his other interests like singing, watching movies and reading.
A Google subsidiary, Orkut is an Internet social network service named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten.
It claims to be designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. It has been growing by leaps and bounds internationally since its launch in January 2004.
"I tend to forget to eat, sleep and perform most of my daily chores after I log on to Orkut. I seriously feel powerless before Orkut," Krishnan told IANS.
"Ever since I joined Orkut last month I have spent hundreds of rupees on browsing. Its almost like Orkut is the drug and I am the addict," he added.
Indians (6.7 per cent) are the third largest group of Orkut users after Brazil (67 per cent) and the US (13 per cent). There are some 23.8 million Orkutters worldwide.
There are communities ranging from the "I hate Himesh Reshammiya" or "I love Amitabh Bachchan" to inane topics like "Tea biscuit dipping" and "Coyote fans", all of whom have a reasonable membership.
"The best thing about Orkut is that it connected me with a lot of my school friends. The last I met and spoke to them was some 13 years back," said Chennai-based-filmmaker Shalini Shankar, 24.
"There are other communities too but as it comes from Google, Orkut has a certain standard and is constantly innovating," she added.
Indeed, Orkut's strength has been the committed number of Google and Gmail users who are being hooked - by invitation only.
In fact, so rapid has been Orkut's growth that it often runs slow or is unavailable - producing a "Bad, bad server. No donut for you" error message.
Then, there's another downside - hate campaigns.
"Orkut is being used by hate groups and anti-social elements to propagate their own agenda. There are any number of communities promoting racial and religious hatred," said Bangalore-based software engineer Anurag Mathur.
For example, there are groups that hold "north Indians leave Bangalore" and others that espouse the Nazi cause. Media reports in the aftermath of the Mumbai serial blasts said underworld don Dawood Ibrahim was informed via Orkut about the blasts hours before they took place.
Orkut has a solution for this.
If more than 10 Orkut users complain against a community or a member, the entity is deemed fit to be declared bogus and is subsequently deleted.
There have also been cases of members adding strangers to their pool of friends just to increase the numbers against their names and profiles.
"It is a major boost to the ego to see a large number of friends listed besides one's profile and - even better - the number of fans one has," Mathur pointed out.
"And for a few days if you do not have any scraps (messages) in your inbox or responses to your observations from you fellow community members, then you tend to get withdrawal symptoms," he added.