Social networking platforms rise and fall. I remember thinking Google Wave was going to be the site of the future, only to see it stall and close a year later. In fact, Google is quite good at letting engineers spin up products, test the marketplace and then kill them when conditions change (Wave, Buzz and Google Plus, for example).
Orkut – A name and a platform
This week, I learned about another product Google’s team put out that had a strong userbase and several years under its belt before closing.
Orkut debuted in 2004 and grew to become one of the largest social networking sites in Brazil. Its growth relied on a perfect blend of technology and culture, leveraging a highly connected community interested in the promise of exclusivity and based on Google’s reputation in the internet industry.
Listening to Users
In many ways, Orkut utilized many of the items identified in a sample social media action plan. While we don’t have full access to internal project charters or dashboards on usage, you can tell by the expansion of Orkut’s platform that they were listening to users, paying attention to data and trying to meet users where they were. As a part of a larger organization, it may have been hard to get the resources or even the attention of leadership to advocate for increasing processing speed or image storage, two things that played into the products eventual demise.
In the early days of social networking, the community was the primary structure. Moving into a network like Orkut, Facebook or even LinkedIn required growth through selectivity. By inviting what we know no as influencers, Orkut grew its audience through invitations, rather than building it and waiting for people to come. For early users, it was both access to community but also a conferral of status. Diffusion strategies, offering access to everyone, may work well with a product that isn’t trying to differentiate itself, but it isn’t great at helping to create an air of exclusivity.
While we are seeing a flattening of the world with technology, it is fascinating to me how many ways local and regional cultures hold onto or develop their own microcultures. In Brazil, outdoor advertising is forbidden, so social media became a thriving adverting marketplace. Like many countries, Brazil leapfrogged over the era of personal computers driving social networks and jumped straight to cell phones, driving mobile app usage. The risk, as Orkut eventually found, was that they couldn’t keep with the byproduct that came with it, more photos, more usage and, eventually more competition for new players in the market.
Goodbye Orkut, Hello
After Google shut Orkut down, they went private, relaunched and failed to find traction in new markets. While the app is still available, you’ll be unlikely to find friends or colleagues in it today. Until a new social networking site can offer something that Facebook can’t, we’ll likely see more entrants into the field crash and burn.