I joined Orkut around 10 years ago, and soon, I was connected with all my high-school and college friends online. Almost everyone I knew was on Orkut.
Orkut was THE social network (at least in India and Brazil), no one really talked about Facebook back then. There was a lot happening on Orkut. For instance, a community named “India” on Orkut had more than 1 million members. It was a super active community – you post a topic and within seconds, you’d see 25-30 legit replies. The community was moderated by more than 100 members who’d ban members not following community guidelines and maintain the log. There were thousands of such active communities on Orkut. It was a thriving social network much like Facebook today.
It was my first experience on a social network. I got so intrigued that I decided to develop my own social network. Never succeeded at that, but it helped me learn more about what’s happening in this space, and especially about Facebook. I created my first profile on Facebook sometime in 2007, but found it super confusing and far less intuitive than Orkut. I found the concept of “wall” and “status update” really lame compared to Orkut’s “scrapbook”. In addition, none of my friends were on Facebook. Soon, I abandoned Facebook and didn’t return for almost a year.
During late 2007 – early 2008, Orkut started experimenting with “status update” and something along the lines of Facebook’s “news feed”. These were really annoying features. But, since I’d seen these features on Facebook, I could sense that Google was maybe focusing too much on its US competitor. Google’s top management was sitting in US, and was probably getting too paranoid about Facebook, which was becoming the dominant social network in the country.
When you focus too much on your competition, you end up copying elements that are at best, your guesses on what’s working for them. In the process, you are actually ruining your existing product experience, and at the same time, “training” your users for your competition’s platform. You can never replace your core value proposition and focus on existing consumers with your competitors’ popular features, especially if you are in it for the long run.
I returned to Facebook again in early 2008 to connect with my future University of California classmates in US. This time around, Facebook looked lot more familiar than the last time around (thanks to Orkut). This time around, I ‘got’ Facebook’s core features like “status update” and “newsfeed”. These features looked lot natural on Facebook than on Orkut. Soon, I was enjoying Facebook.
For a couple of months, majority of my Facebook friends were still my US classmates. However, by mid-2008, I had started receiving ‘Facebook friend requests’ from my Orkut friends. And within a few months, my Orkut network became a subset of my Facebook network. With Indians getting onto Facebook, Orkut probably got even more paranoid and it was clear in its 2009 redesign, which looked even more similar to Facebook. Soon, people started flocking away from Orkut at a much faster rate. Orkut never recovered from that point.
We can point out many reasons why Orkut lost out in India, including excess spam, bugs, privacy issues etc. However, I believe that too much focus on competition was the primary factor behind the undoing of the once largest social network in India and Brazil.
Got a question for us? Please mention them in the comments section and we will get back to you.