Orkut’s Founder Is Still Dreaming of a Social Media Utopia | EUROtoday

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Before Orkut launched in January 2004, Büyükkökten warned the staff that the platform he’d constructed it on may deal with solely 200,000 customers. It would not have the ability to scale. “They said, let’s just launch and see what happens,” he explains. The relaxation is on-line historical past. “It grew so fast. Before we knew it, we had millions of users,” he says.

Orkut featured a digital Scrapbook and the power to present individuals compliments (starting from “trustworthy” to “sexy”), create communities, and curate your very personal Crush List. “It reflected all of my personality traits. You could flatter people by saying how cool they were, but you could never say something negative about them,” he says.

At first, Orkut was in style within the US and Japan. But, as predicted, server points severed its connection to its customers. “We started having a lot of scalability issues and infrastructure problems,” Büyükkökten says. They have been pressured to rewrite the whole platform utilizing C++, Java, and Google’s instruments. The course of took a complete yr, and scores of authentic customers dropped off attributable to sluggish speeds and one-too-many encounters with Orkut’s now-nostalgic “Bad, bad server, no donut for you” error message.

Around this time, although, the positioning grew to become extremely in style in Finland. Büyükkökten was bemused. “I couldn’t figure it out until I spoke to a friend who speaks Finnish. And he said: ‘Do you know what your name means?’ I didn’t. He told me that orkut means multiple orgasms.” Come once more? “Yes, so in Finland, everyone thought they were signing up to an adult site. But then they would leave straight after as we couldn’t satisfy them,” he laughs.

Awkward double meanings apart, Orkut continued to unfold the world over. In addition to exploding in Estonia, the platform went mega in India. Its true second house, although, was Brazil. “It became a huge success. A lot of people think I’m Brazilian because of this,” Büyükkökten explains. He has a concept about why Brazil went nuts for Orkut. “Brazil’s culture is very welcoming and friendly. It’s all about friendships and they care about connections. They’re also very early adopters of technology,” he says. At its peak, 11 million of Brazil’s 14 million web customers have been on Orkut, most logging on by means of cybercafes. It took Facebook seven years to catch up.
But Orkut wasn’t with out its issues (and plenty of pretend profiles). The website was banned in Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Government authorities in Brazil and India had issues about drug-related content material and little one pornography, one thing Büyükkökten denies existed on Orkut. Brazilians coined the phrase orkutization to explain a social media website like Orkut changing into much less cool after going mainstream. In 2014, having hemorrhaged customers attributable to sluggish server speeds, Facebook’s extra intuitive interface, and points surrounding privateness, Orkut went offline. “Vic Gundotra, in charge of Google+, decided against having any competing social products,” Büyükkökten explains.

But Büyükkökten has fond recollections. “We had so many stories of people falling in love and moving in together from different parts of the world. I have a friend in Canada who met his wife in Brazil through Orkut, a friend in New York who met his wife in Estonia and now they’re married with two kids.” he says. It additionally offered a platform for minority communities. “I was talking to a gay journalist from a small town in São Paulo who told me that finding all these LGBTQ people on Orkut transformed his life,” he provides.

Büyükkökten left Google in 2014 and based a brand new social community, once more that includes a easy five-letter title: Hello. He wished to deal with optimistic connection. It used “loves” relatively than likes, and customers may select from greater than 100 personae, starting from Cricket Fan to Fashion Enthusiast, after which have been linked to like-minded individuals with frequent pursuits. Soft-launched in Brazil in 2018 with 2 million customers, Hello loved “ultra-high engagement” that Büyükkökten claims surpassed the likes of Instagram and Twitter. “One of the things that stood out in our user surveys was that people said when they open Hello, it makes them happy.”

The app was downloaded greater than 2 million occasions—a fraction of the customers Orkut loved—however Büyükkökten is happy with it. “It surpassed all our dreams. There were numerous instances where our K-Factor (the number of new people that existing users bring to an app) reached 3, leading us to exponential growth,” he says. But, in 2020, Büyükkökten bid goodbye to Hello.
Now he’s engaged on a brand new platform. “It’ll leverage AI and machine learning to optimize for improving happiness, bringing people together, fostering communities, empowering users, and creating a better society,” he says. “Connection will be the cornerstone of design, interaction, product, and experience.” And the identify? “If I told you the new brand, you would have an aha moment and everything would be crystal clear,” he says.

Once once more, it’s pushed by his enduring want to attach individuals. “One of the biggest ills of society is the decline in social capital. After smartphones and the pandemic, we have stopped hanging out with our friends and don’t know our neighbors. We have a loneliness epidemic,” he says.
He is fiercely crucial of present platforms. “My biggest passion in life is connecting people through technology. But when was the last time you met someone on social media? It’s creating shame, pessimism, division, depression, and anxiety,” he says. For Büyükkökten, optimism is extra essential than optimization. “These companies have engineered the algorithm for revenue,” he says. “But it’s been awful for mental health. The world is terrifying right now and a lot of that has come through social media. There’s so much hate,” he says.

Instead, he needs social media to be a spot of affection and a facilitator for assembly new individuals in individual. But why will it work this time round? “That’s a really good question,” he says. “One thing that has been really consistent is that people miss Orkut right now.” It’s true—Brazilian social media has not too long ago been abuzz with memes and recollections to have fun the positioning’s twentieth birthday. “A teenage boy even recently drove 10 hours to meet me at a conference to talk about Orkut. And I was like, how is that even possible?” he laughs. Orkut’s touchdown web page continues to be reside, that includes an open letter calling for a social media utopia.

This, together with our collective want for a extra human social media, is what makes Büyükkökten imagine that his subsequent platform is one that can really stick round. Has he selected that each one essential identify? “We haven’t announced it yet. But I’m really excited. I truly care. I want to bring that authenticity and sense of belonging back,” he concludes. Perhaps, as his Finnish followers would joke, it’s time for Orkut’s second coming.

This story first appeared within the July/August 2024 UK version of WIRED journal.