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 pull 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.
"Connect Internet users"
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 presented Club Nexus at Stanford University, shortly after inCircle, focused on groups of alumni, and in 2002 he had even dared with 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".
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 terms of 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.
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 having a clear idea of 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, it did not help him 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 little of farewell: Hello.
Images | GPDOC (Flickr), Kailash Naik (Flickr) and Gaurav Mishra (Flickr)