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Orkut, the site where Indians made ‘frandships’ before Facebook came along

For Indian social media users, Orkut was something they 'did' before Facebook, but long after the world had dumped it.

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For a lot of Indians now living and breathing their social media life on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, there was a Google product that first took them by storm: Orkut. That name evokes a feeling of nostalgia among a section even today, in large part due to Orkut being their entry into the world of social network.

Named after its creator Orkut Büyükkökten, a Turkish engineer, the social media platform enjoyed unparalleled popularity in Brazil and India, especially among the 20-somethings. Today, they remember Orkut as something they ‘did’ before Facebook. But here’s a fun fact: Orkut was launched a mere ten days before Mark Zuckerberg put out his revolutionary medium, The Facebook, on 4 February 2004 into the world (although the blue page became accessible to users beyond Harvard and students around the world only on 26 September 2006).

“The perception today among youngsters is that Orkut came much before Facebook,” brand and marketing expert Navroze Dhondy says.

Orkut’s popularity marked the advent of a new rising India, which was aware and no more digitally handicapped. It showcased the Indian mindset — a strong urge to remain connected with each other.

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“Orkut was a pioneer among social networking sites and it also marked the rise in internet users in India and a few other countries… it did very well in the early days, cashing in on the early internet users,” technology analyst Prasanto Kumar Roy tells ThePrint.

Roy points out that Orkut had a fiercely loyal fanbase in the initial phase. To become an Orkut user, you needed an invitation. “That was a big thing, it accorded you a sense of pride, after all you had to be invited and the medium was not open to all,” says Dhondy.

In fact, the huge popularity of Orkut drove its parent company Google to launch the platform in multiple Indian languages, including Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu.

While the rest of the world had turned to Facebook, Indian social media users in large part stuck around with Orkut, until about 2009. During this period, Orkut gave tough competition to Facebook. But in 2010, Facebook inched ahead.

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Google’s shifting focus was to some extent responsible for Orkut’s demise. Roy, in fact, says that Orkut was never a priority for Google.

And in 2011, when it could have tried to strengthen Orkut with new features, Google launched a new product altogether: Google Plus. Experts say the writing was on the wall once Google Plus was launched. “Orkut’s competition was no more just external, it had internal competition as well,” Dhondy points out.

So, while Google stayed away from improving upon Orkut, Facebook kept updating itself with time. “Though Orkut was simple to operate in the initial phase, it got complicated, and slow, later on. Facebook, on the other hand, kept changing its features and design to keep up with the demands of the users,” Roy says, and adds that the loyal user base of Orkut began turning to Facebook.

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Although Google has been reasonably quick in winding up products, some as quick as within a day of the launch, it held onto Orkut for a bit longer possibly due to the “huge emotional connect”. Orkut’s creator Büyükkökten, too, was not very keen on giving up. And so, while Google pulled the plug on Orkut on 30 September 2014, giving users a window to save and transfer photographs, posts and scraps, its creator was back within a little over a couple of years with, well, Hello!

Although Indian social media users have seemingly moved on to more than just one platform, Orkut enjoys a special place in their memory. It is recent memory — just 15 years ago — but in social media years, it is equal to an era.

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