By Mark Taylor
Orkut is nothing short of a phenomenon for Internet users in Brazil, and it’s pretty unlikely that anyone with an Internet connection and Brazilian friends (at least younger friends) won’t have heard of it.

But for those who haven’t heard of it, here’s a quick introduction. Orkut is basically a web site, and similar to other community sites like Friendster and Myspace, but the combination of features is unlike any other.

At it’s most basic you register a profile on the site, along with various details about yourself (to as much or as little detail as you want). Once your profile is registered you can go off searching for other users and communities.

The basic features of your profile allow you to post photos of yourself or whatever subject you desire (friends, family, pets etc.). Each profile also has a Scrapbook which other users contact you with, by writing a short message. The scrapbook is the primary method of communication through Orkut. For friends who want to write wonderful (or not) things about you they can leave a Testimonial, which at least for the Brazilians are suitably gushy. Friends can also confindentially define themselves as fans, as well as rating you in terms of trustworthiness, coolness, and sexyness.

As mentioned there are also communities on Orkut, many many many communities. This is one of the problems with Orkut (and to some extent similar sites) in that people have created communities about one particular topic, and then someone will create a similar community, and someone else will create another, ad infinitum. This makes finding the right community a bit of a problem, but if you keep an eye on the number of members you’ll spot those which are most likely to be active.

Perhaps surprisingly Orkut is the product of Google, those famous search engine people, who are slowly turning into an empire and producing a number of spinoff programs such as the recent Google Earth. It’s easy to see how Google Earth can be used to position and sell, but not so easy with Orkut, assuming it’s ever intended for some form of selling. As mentioned, Orkut has become a huge hit in Brazil and basically nowhere else to such a degree. It’s estimated that 75% of the users on Orkut are Brazilian. It’s not clear what it is about Orkut that has made it such a big hit in Brazil and nowhere else, perhaps the social aspect strikes a chord with Brazil’s social structure. As with anything of this type on the Internet it’s particularly popular with teenagers and young people who use it to socialise, make friends, and date. Older folks have also used it to find friends from the past, which is surprisingly successful as so many people use it.

The name Orkut came from its principal creator, Orkut Bykkkten (a Turkish Google employee), who had created a similiar and earlier system for use by University students.

There are two main downsides or difficulties with Orkut. Firstly you have to find an existing user to join or you need a Google Mail account. An existing user can send you an invitation to join. The ability to use a Google Mail account to login is a recent change, but of course to get a Google account also requires a recommendation. Secondly the site and servers it runs on are overloaded, presumably due to its popularity. It requently pops up with the famous, for Orkut users at least, “bad server no donut for you!” error when things go wrong.

In next weeks article I will cover Spam.

If you have any comment or questions on this article, as well as suggestions for future articles then please contact the author.

Previous articles in this series:

Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4 (Getting Online)
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3 (Blogging)
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2 (Internet Telephony)
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1 (Instant Messaging)

Edit: Just as an update, I had an email from someone using Orkut who had various problems with people causing trouble to both him and his wife, and he has subsequently deleted his account. As with any community system Orkut has “trolls” (those people who enjoy causing problems for other users in terms of pestering or other harassment) so obviously be careful in terms of who you contact and deal with over the system, or any similar system.

I would also add that I’m not specifically recommending people to use Orkut, this article is intended more as an introduction to the site for those who want to know more.”
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