What happened to Orkut, the social network launched by Google

What happened to Orkut, the social network launched by Google

What happened to Orkut, the social network launched by Google to combat Facebook and that we have all decided to forget
What happened to Orkut, the social network launched by Google to combat Facebook and that we have all decided to forget

If you travel to Rio de Janeiro and have a coffee —or already a good caipirinha— with a millennial, someone who lived their adolescence in the early 2000s, a word may come out during the conversation that leaves you unsettled: orkutização . Don’t worry. It’s not that the Portuguese skates you. Don’t bother looking it up in the dictionary either, or take out the translator. Orkutização is one of those expressions that almost improvises itself, that is born at the same time as its concept and gives language scholars a headache. Same as “random”, “bug” or “stalk”.

More or less you can translate as “die of success”, although not of any success. When something is orkutized it loses its air of sophistication and stops being “cool” . Linguistic disquisitions aside, the term was born attached to the networks and helps to understand the drift of platforms that have fallen from grace, such as Tuenti or MySpace. Why? Well, because the word itself comes from a network: Orkut, launched by Google in 2004 and which, after adding millions of users, ended up being sacked in 2014 .

Orkut’s death is explained by his orkutização ; but also, and to a great extent, due to Google’s errant policy in the field of networks and its inability to stand up to competitors that knew how to position themselves better and connect with the public on a global level, such as Facebook.

This is the story of its birth, success, orkutização and bump.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Google applied a rule that may seem eccentric at first, but that over time brought great success: it allowed its employees to dedicate 20% of their time in the office to personal projects. The only requirement, of course, was that they could benefit the company. Thanks to this initiative, AdSense, Google News… or the germ of a social network proposed by Orkut Büyükkökten , an engineer almost recently landed at Google, emerged.

Büyükkökten was not yet 30 years old, but he had considerable experience with online communities. In 2001 he had introduced Club Nexus at Stanford University , shortly after inCircle, focused on alumni groups, and in 2002 he had even ventured into his own company, Affinity Engines. However, it was at Google where he found space to shape his great project: a network capable of “connecting all Internet users”.

Mountain View liked the proposal and in 2004 Orkut was launched, named after its creator. His philosophy was as simple as his aesthetic. At first you accessed by invitation and the web allowed you to add friends, send messages, describe yourself, leave reflections, upload a handful of photos or classify your contacts. Compared to today’s networks, it’s not much, but it was used to locate old friends and there were even those who used it as a primitive Tinder .

The formula did not take long to gain adherents. Of course, with a very uneven distribution . In some countries Orkut ended up becoming a phenomenon and in others it tiptoed. Among the first, without a doubt, Brazil stands out, which in the second half of 2004, even before the national domain was activated, already had around 700,000 users. There its success was such that until 2011, despite the orkutização , or perhaps precisely thanks to it, it still surpassed Facebook in traffic . At the end of that year, the Google network still registered 34 million unique visitors, with a growth of 10%.

In Spain it was also present, although with more discreet figures. In March 2011 we added 2% of its users , although there was already a community active enough to fill their accounts with black ties on the day of the 11-M attacks. If we want to get an idea of ​​how segmented its implementation was, take a look at Google data from 2006 . At that time, 73.2% of Orkut users were Brazilian, 10.1% American, 2.8% Iranian, 2.4% Pakistani and 2.1% Indian. Spain did not even appear on the list.

The scant pull of Orkut in Spain did not prevent it from being the gateway to social platforms for some, a concept that was new to many. Fotolog and MySpace had been launched shortly before, Facebook and Flickr were launched the same year as Orkut and for Tuenti or Twitter we would have to wait until 2006. As for Instagram, it was not launched until 2010.

Although things did not go well for Orkut here, on the other side of the Atlantic it managed to gather a more than respectable parish and over the years it experienced some improvements. In 2007, after settling a dispute with Affinity Engines over the origin of the code, Google redesigned its page; in 2009 it presented an improved version and in 2011 it released its logo and retouched its image. From that first version presented by Büyükkökten in 2002, another more comfortable and functional one was passed, with a feed with updates from friends, video chat and better navigation.

Those tweaks didn’t stop Orkut from fading away. Although for a time it seemed to have become one of those “Gallic villages” that withstood the push of Facebook, like Tuenti in Spain or V Kontatakte in Russia, it did not take long for it to lose steam in its own strongholds. In 2014 —just 10 years after its creation— Google announced the closure of its old platform and gave its users a margin of several months to recover their data. By then, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network was already the main platform, with 1.28 billion users.

Beyond that orkutização process that permeated Brazil to the point of creating a school and sneaking into its dictionary, the end of Orkut is explained by a number of factors. The main one, probably, was the lack of a clear strategy on the part of Google. As Genbeta explained in 2014 , the network had grown very quickly, unpredictably, and without the Mountain View firm knowing how to take advantage of it. In 2007 they ran into problems when they started showing ads, monetization was not easy and maintenance was also complex.

To further complicate the scenario, there was the problem of how to expand it into new markets. In Brazil it worked well, but its limited implementation in other territories made it difficult for it to benefit from the network effect that did encourage Facebook. As for his image inside and outside Brazil, he was not helped by the fact that some users used the platform to commit serious crimes .

Faced with such a scenario, Google decided to make a clean slate . Change of strategy and opted for Google+, a movement that in the end would not work out either . That didn’t mean that Orkut disappeared overnight; but the network began to languish. A good example is that its iPhone app did not come out until 2012, an announcement that did not arouse great enthusiasm either.

When Google reported its closure in 2014, it confirmed what was already a death foretold.

Almost 20 years after the birth of Orkut, however, part of its footprint survives.

If you consult his domain ( orkut.com ) you will find a message from Büyükkökten in which he explains why he promoted the network and invites you to his new project , another platform in which he wants to recover Orkut’s original philosophy. His name, of course, has a bit of farewell: Hello.

Rachel Maga
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life's biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.