February 17, 2004

Orkut Review by Rendition

If you asked web surfers what’s the hottest “in-thing” that is all the rage on the net? Chances are social networking sites would be near the top of the list. Ever since Friendster started the latest wave, the internet is now flooded with “me-too” sites like Tribe.net, LinkedIn, and now Google’s Orkut.

Orkut is the brainchild of Orkut Buyukkokten, a user interface engineer, at the mother of all search engine companies. The story goes that Orkut was a independent project that Mr. Buyukkokten (try saying that ten times) created in the “one day a week” that Google allocates for pet-projects. Of course if the “pet-project” is successful, the company will own all the intellectual property and technology.

Orkut borrows many of the same basic ideas from Friendster and its predecessors. One must recall that networking sites aren’t really the “new, new thing.” In fact, Amazon.com bought PlanetAll back in the bubble days that had the same basic foundation of sharing contact information, basic biographies, and expanding your network through your contact’s network.

Orkut’s contact search screen and user interface with photo thumbnails is practically a carbon copy of Friendster, which itself used many ideas from other online dating sites. The site also has Friendster’s testimonial feature, where one can write a short piece lauding their friend’s personality or achievements.

Then what differentiates Orkut you may ask? As a Friendster user, the first thing you notice is the speed. Leveraging daddy Google’s network infrastructure is a good thing, so when you actually click on something it works within a second. Friendster on the other hand is famous for being so slow that you literally can brew yourself a cup of coffee as the screen refreshes each time you click a link.

Orkut also has two killer features called “karma ratings” and communities. The “karma ratings” let contacts rate the “coolness” and “attractiveness” of their friends using a number of ice cubes and hearts as the currency. The site also lets one mark secret crushes on people in their network. If both sides designate a crush on each other, Orkut let’s them know they like each other.
Communities are networks setup by Orkut members around a topic of interest. For example, Miata owners can congregate in the Miata community and send messages to one another. Gillette employees can congregate in the Gillette community and share the latest gossip. Already hundreds of community networks have sprouted up and are hubs of message board activity.

Perhaps the best feature thus far is the quality of the people in the Orkut network. It seems virtually the whole Google company is on the site with their high IQs and wits. Since the site is “invitation only”, friends of smart interesting people, tend to be, well, smart and interesting.

Orkut is expanding like a weed, week by week. It’s only a matter of time before it assimilates us all. Remember Google supposedly offered to buy Friendster a few months back, I bet Mr. Friendster is at least thinking about whether he should of sold out then.

Overall Score: 9 out 10