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?