Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Farewell, friend

The story starts with a Turkish man who had the near-unpronounceable-to-lesser-mortals surname of Büyükkökten. Like almost all Bengalis and a handful of Turkish, he wanted to study Computer Science. Like a handful of Bengalis and a handful of Turkish, he also did an MS and PhD in Computer Science as well.

Büyükkökten launched a curious concept called Club Nexus at an age of 26 to interact with his college friends at Stanford. He later went on to introduce inCircle — a concept similar to Club Nexus — but for the alumni of his college.

He took up a job in Google, and devoted 20% of his time to develop an improved version of Club Nexus. He came up with a product — the first major one of its kind. Google decided to name it after Büyükkökten’s first name: Orkut.

***

Orkut was still a new concept in the summer of 2004. Like GMail (which arrived on the fray much later), Orkut was an invitation-based concept; I was fortunate to get an invitation in Orkut’s earlier days, and suddenly looked at the world with new eyes.

Gone were the a/s/l days: you can now see the people you were interacting with. See their pictures (though some, for whatever reason, came disguised as Namitha). Know their likes and dislikes. Read their About Me’s. Send scraps to them. Connect with old friends. Join communities with like-minded people.

The world opened up for me: till then I was confined to the realm of Yahoo! Groups to communicate with like-minded people, whether cricket or Bollywood or literature. Orkut took things a step further: the people you talked to were real. Friends came closer. Strangers became friends. And they became fans and wrote Testimonials.

There have been few concepts as ego-boosting as Orkut fans: everyone, everyone on Orkut could be classified into two categories:
-          People who kept a sharp eye on the number of fans they had, maintaining a tab on the count, and reacting strongly to any alteration, and
-          People who did the same, but lied about it.

Testimonials, of course, were another issue. Being a fan, just like capturing a selfie, meant a simple click. Testimonials actually needed serious, often well-thought, efforts, and once I approved them, my promise of not showing off went through the window: I gloated over them, and can hardly be blamed for that. Who would not show off if one received the likes of these (from a person I had met on Orkut)?

What did I tell you? Testimonials are for showing off!
What about scraps, then? In the initial days you had to keep your scrapbook open and hit the F5 button, and go to the user’s page to respond to the scraps; then they used scrap threads, where all responses to scraps came under the initial scrap; and then, finally, they allowed notifications for scraps. What fun!

This, unfortunately, is what my current scrapbook looks like:

Does this not make you sad?
 You could also put up pictures. The count was restricted to 12, which meant that you had to keep rotating them if you wanted to add to them. They later added the restriction on the count of pictures, and, surprise, surprise, allowed your friends to comment on them, and even delivered notifications for such comments!

Then, there were the communities. You could join them. You could create them. You could have fun, discuss serious bits of information, get involved in topics you were genuinely interested in (something you could not do with the man sitting in the cubicle next to you), wonder who the people behind fake profiles were.

Those were the days: we bad-mouthed people who used SMS language or leet; we used to add “in the toilet” after Today’s Fortune and had a hearty laugh; we added YouTube videos at will; we got to know of birthdays a fortnight in advance; we could even update our status, which remained till we changed them. And finally, they incorporated Google Talk in Orkut. All was well.

Then came Zuckerberg’s ogre, and spread its tentacles to cast an iron-grip on poor Orkut. Google never tried to evolve as Facebook took rapid strides. As for us, we decided to shift, ever so slowly, as the Facebook juggernaut gradually took over. The shift became complete when Dorsey, Williams, Stone, and Glass launched another one in 2006.

Google took drastic steps: it introduced Likes; it even created a parallel (which is growing surprisingly powerful with every passing day) network called Google+; but nobody cared for poor Orkut. We never revisited the accounts we were once so proud of. We shifted to Likes and Shares and Comments.

I had smiled when this image had appeared on my timeline in 2010. I cannot recall whether I had shared this. But I had felt a hollow somewhere deep. I had paid a visit to my Orkut account, got bored, and had left.

Source: The internet
I came back only on June 29, when Google announced it was closing down Orkut.

They are taking away the first social networking site of my life, but I have Facebook.

They are taking away the site that had given me some of my closest friends, but I still remain close to most of them and am connected to them via Facebook and Google+.

They are taking away the communities, but I still have Facebook groups.

I can post my blogposts on Google+ and get +1’d. I can take stupid quizzes and post results on Facebook and get comments. I can make snarky comments on Twitter and wait for them to get re-tweeted and favourited.

Neither of them, unfortunately, come with Orkut’s innocence. Facebook seems to be walking on vitrified tiles in comfortable slippers; Orkut was like jumping on puddles, splashing mud all over. The greatest attraction of Orkut was the fact that it was mysterious, it was naive, it was difficult to get around with, it came with ridiculously weak features.

Facebook is comfortable and easy; it kept on experimenting and evolving; it also grew with the smart-phone evolution; which is why I will forget about Orkut in a couple of days and pay my occasional visits to the all-conquering f-button.

It is just that it does not come with Testimonials. I have 30 of these. How many do you have?

24 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha ha.... And it is for the testimonials that your soul weeps so much? :D

    Such a nice post, Abhishek da :)) (I still prefer your real name to Ovshake though :P)

    I barely used Orkut, even though I belonged to a group which had swore never to shift to Facebook :D But...as soon as we left school in 2008, opening a Facebook account was not enough. You had to start using it. And that is how I keep in touch with most of the childhood friends...although Whatsapp helps :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They do. What would you know of Orkut? I used Orkut way before I had broadband at my home. Sigh.

      Delete
    2. Testimonials and the fact that you could see who was stalking you online.
      By the way, did you know before orkut, there was also Hi5?

      Delete
    3. There was hi5, there was Zorpia (?), and a few more.

      Delete
  2. I lived a life in orkut. Looking back, I can even call it a lifetime in its own. I found friends, soulmates, anchors. I found people who I then thought I can never live without. Sigh! Some stayed, some went, some, I left. But orkut did shape the me that I am now!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I suddenly feel sad after reading this post. :(

    This also reminded me of a fake profile I had on Orkut - 'Nemesis'. I don't even wish to think of the things I did through that profile then. :D

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a slightly different perspective. To me Facebook/G+ and Twitter are not really rivals of Orkut, in the sense of substitute product, like Deepika Padukone vs Anushka Sharma. And so FB/G+ vs Orkut is not a choice between similar things but rather a choice between two different things (like MS Dhoni vs RS Dravid). And the decline of Orkut does not reflect the decline of a brand vs a different brand offering the same product, but rather the decline of a lifestyle choice vs another, like the decline of Nokia 3310/5 vs the iPhone.

    My induction to Orkut happened pretty much when I was entering ISI in 2004, and it pretty much died with me leaving college in 2009. There was a brief period of Google Buzz in 2009-10 parallel to the transition between college and `working life', and I got inducted in FB in mid-2010 pretty much when that transition was over and I had devoted the adequate amount of bandwidth to industry gossip/ i20 mileage/ singapore packages/ meaningless acronyms to appear useful, alert, and friendly at office parties.

    Orkut was all about communities, it was having wholehearted discussion with other people who shared your passions. And once in a while, that girl you met last week would write you a scrap, or a testimonial. And maybe a month later she would write you another, longer one. It was like being in a bar with friends with good music playing softly in the background and talking for hours about things that you care about and plan crazy adventures. And smiling a little, once in a while, at the cute girl at the next table. The impact of your post wouldn't be measured in likes or shares, but in the posts that follow. FB is horrible with groups. It's like a karaoke bar where some people go and sing their hearts out, channeling out their need to be noticed and have some attention, and others sit in the dark nursing their drinks and feeling smug about how terribly their friends sing and how pathetically those friends are embarrassing themselves. To talk to someone you have to shout across the din and then feel really awkward when suddenly the song has ended and you are caught shouting.

    So I think Orkut died and FB is a $ 175 Bn company because, how much unlikely it might sound to me (or you), most people actually prefer getting 500 likes on a stupid profile pic over talking about something they care about. Maybe most people do not care much about anything other then themselves, or maybe they don't have the friends to go to a bar with and have a fun time over beers. It's safer and more fun going out to a karaoke bar and receive polite applause at your bad singing.

    Sorry for the long rant. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, truer words have seldom been spoken. :(

      Delete

    2. A “pretty much” overdose.. but I agree. A lot. I shifted, much long later than others, only because others did. The bar was suddenly so empty in orkut, and then, suddenly raided by goons! Facebook isn’t a spec of what Orkut was to be, neither will anything else be. But then, I hope I can still count on the people behind these platforms all the same.

      Delete
    3. No. It was not an overdose.

      Sinjini, when you say "Facebook isn’t a spec of what Orkut was to be" you probably mean "Facebook users aren’t a spec of what Orkut users used to be." The issue is not with the website. Facebook had evolved, instead of living under a rock the way Orkut had.

      Facebook comes with its own strengths. Since it is based around self-promotion, organisations have seized the advantage and have converted a new realm of Facebook marketing, an inexpensive yet effective strategy that cannot be overlooked.

      Having said that, they still do not have Testimonials. :)

      Delete
  5. This River, That River.July 3, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Facebook is like taking a megaphone and announcing your life to (at best) mildly interested listeners, all of whom are busy with their own megaphones.
    Orkut was like knocking on a friend's door on a friday evening with a bottle of wine. it was like running into a friend from a past life. It was about showing off on 'about me' and proving how cool you were in 'things i learnt from past relationships' (my answer was 'Learn? I never learn.') . It was about crushing insanely on multiple people and being jealous when they wrote testimonials to others. it was about trolling friends with fake profiles. it was about communities with serious discussions and communities that existed with the sole purpose of annoying other communities.
    It was also a great deal about stalking, back in its early days when you couldn't stop people from seeing your scrapbook. The nights we spent reading every single one of 2750 scraps that were sent to a person of interest in the past 2 years :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never stalked. I guess I missed out on a lot. Orkut was too low on security settings towards the beginning, but so was Facebook.

      But. The. Testimonials.

      Delete
  6. Through Orkut, I had my first real encounter with the virtual world. The night-long fights in various communities over trivial issues, checking Orkut the first thing in the morning to see how my 'rivals' reacted/responded had been a daily routine once. But Orkut gave me some really good friends and re-connected me with many old ones.

    No matter how Facebook evolves (I am not into Google+ or others), Orkut will remain close to my heart.

    Your write-up made me nostalgic and sad, at the same time, it brought back numerous memories.

    Kudos Abhishek da. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, and sorry for making you sad.

      Delete
  7. you had written me my most favourite testimonial. alas, I can't even visit again for one last time. the page is not opening

    ReplyDelete
  8. A touching epitaph indeed... Farewell Orkut, hello Facebook (while you last)... but let us not forget the old man in the room, please. He's called "email".

    ReplyDelete

Followers