My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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venting my contempt for orkut

As i write this, it’s down again. But that doesn’t mean that i haven’t been thinking about it. And dear god, everyone and their mother has written about it. At the bottom of this rant, i’ve included some of the ones that have been making me think (and i’ve been reading a *lot*).

OK… so my take on Orkut.

1) What the hell is up with the elitist approach to invitation? That’s just outright insulting and an attempt to pre-configure the masses through what the technorati are doing. Social networks are not just a product of technologists. Everyone has a social network and what they do with it is quite diverse. To demand that they behave by the norms of technologists is horrifying.

2) Are trustworthy, cool, and sexy the only ways that i might classify my friends? (Even Orkut lists a lot more in his definition of self.) And since when can i rate the people that i know based on this kind of metric?

And goddamnit CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT. Cool as a techy? Cool as a party kid? Trustworthy along what fucking axes?

3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don’t get me wrong: on Orkut, there’s definitely pressure to reciprocate.) The people that i’m a fan of are not my friends; they’re idols; they’re people that i read on the interweb but do not know.

It is sooo weird to read which of my friends are a fan of me. Does that mean that the rest are only following social custom in linking to me? Does that mean that they don’t really respect me? [Or does it mean, like it means to me, that it’s too bloody weird to consider checking off that fan bit?]

And worse… i can see who is a fan of others. This means that i can check on my friends and figure out that they’re using the fan feature… just not on me. Hello, socially awkward.

4) What’s up with the popular crowd hierarchy both in visual and Friends/Communities listing? Have we not learned that this motivates bad behavior?

5) Hell, haven’t we learned ANYTHING? We still have articulation. But worse, now that everyone is paying attention to this, the network isn’t growing naturally. You jump on. Fast. And connect to everyone you recognize. WTF? And what the hell are you supposed to DO once you get on the damn thing?

6) And boy is it irritating that everything is broken. I know it’s an alpha, but it’s too popular to withstand the interest. Can’t change picture on certain parts. Can’t delete account. Can’t get rid of picture. And what’s up with the regular crashes?

7) And then there are the Terms that show contempt for academics. There’s a blanket ban on robots, collecting information, reverse engineering, and other “unauthorized” use (hello, fair use). You can’t even link from the damn thing (i.e. i can’t identify myself outside of the constraints of Orkut… like on my own site or identifying a research project in which i’d like people to participate. Thus, i can’t use a social networking tool to fucking social network). Of course, there’s not much appreciation for anyone else either. THEY OWN EVERYTHING YOU POST!!! You CAN’T OPT OUT! Complete registration only.

And don’t worry… they can modify the ToS without any notice.

I’m sure more rants are to follow. But in the meantime, tell me why i’m wrong. Cause i’m cranky and disappointed. Everyone’s all excited because it’s Google. But i feel like i just met Jar Jar.

…….

Boris – traffic stat comparisons of Orkut vs. other sites

Anne on why she deleted her account. [Also, i want to read the link to the failure of social networks, but they’ve reached their bandwidth limit. Stupid fucking ISP.]

Jill on the patchwork view of one’s network

Jay on a fantastic metaphor, paralleling Orkut with a hotel lobby or cruise ship

Foe Romeo on a social network ideal

Anti-Mega on why Orkut lacks innovation

David on the politics of the ToS wrt ownership of identity

Marc Canter on being banned from Orkut

Wired on Social Nets Not Making Friends

Liz – an Orkut analysis

Ross on why Orkut doesn’t work for him

Weinberger on the problems with the expectation to increase nodes

Clay on the Orkut craze

Dina on her blog as her social network (and why Orkut)

Update: additional references

Jeremy on why Google needs Orkut

Lee – another good rant on Orkut

Mary on building a social network site in 24 hours… on privacy… and on collecting baseball cards

Halley on Orkut invitation frustration

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139 comments to venting my contempt for orkut

  • danah’s rant on Orkut

    danah has finally posted her long awaited rant on Orkut. Orkut, in case you don’t know, is the social networking…

  • danah’s rant on Orkut

    danah has finally posted her long awaited rant on Orkut. Orkut, in case you don’t know, is the social networking…

  • danah’s rant on Orkut

    danah has finally posted her long awaited rant on Orkut. Orkut, in case you don’t know, is the social networking…

  • “1) What the hell is up with the elitist approach to invitation? That’s just outright insulting and an attempt to pre-configure the masses through what the technorati are doing. Social networks are not just a product of technologists. Everyone has a social network and what they do with it is quite diverse. To demand that they behave by the norms of technologists is horrifying.”

    Amen. It *is* off-putting. I am still waiting for someone to extend an invitation to me, so I can take a look at Orkut myself. But from what I’m reading in your post today, and in your compilation of others’ comments (thanks!), it would seen that I’m not missing a helluva lot.

    Oh, what the hell, invite me anyways…. I’ve now been fully forewarned on what to expect.

    Use email: ryanschultz@hotmail.com

    –Ryan Schultz

  • boyd on Orkut; Meskill on the YASNS numbers

    apophenia goes apoplectic on the subject of orkut#3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don’t get me wrong: on…

  • boyd on Orkut; Meskill on the YASNS numbers

    apophenia goes apoplectic on the subject of orkut#3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don’t get me wrong: on…

  • boyd on Orkut; Meskill on the YASNS numbers

    apophenia goes apoplectic on the subject of orkut#3) Explain to me why one must be a friend to be a fan of someone? The role of fan is inherently a power differential, not an equalizer. (Don’t get me wrong: on…

  • Interesting perspectives on Orkut

    apophenia: venting my contempt for orkut (via Martin via Joi Ito)…

  • I just launched the public Beta of SongBuddy, YASNS, which addresses some of your complaints:
    1 and 2 just don’t apply,
    3 – I think the language needs to evolve a buzzword to describe how social networks link people. I haven’t addressed this, using “friends” and “fans” for now, but am giving it some thought.
    4 – I’m actually working on the crowd metaphor for the site, what bad behavior does it incite?
    5 – SongBuddy is the first network I’ve heard of that does something other than saying here’s a list of your friends friends, it builds a directory of their favorite music that you can listen to. We need more social networks actually DOING things.
    6 – INSERT NORMAL MICROSOFT BASHING 🙂
    7 – Not only is all the data on SongBuddy licensed under the Creative Commons, but we also export it as FOAF so that anyone can build on it. We’ll also be digesting other sites’ FOAFs soon, which means you’ll be able to bring your friendlist to and from SongBuddy.

    I genuinely wanted to address and discuss what you said in your post, but if this comes off as comment spam feel free to delete it.

  • Invitation only has some good points. It means the people who join are probably connecting to some pre-existing social network, other people they already know. I’d summarize the problem as the fact that it’s binary (the same issue you pointed out with being someone’s friend, or fan). You either are or aren’t invited, or a friend, or a fan. So either you are forced to choose a cutoff point which will invariably insult someone, or you just “befriend” everyone because the concept has become virtually meaningless. This is made worse by the fact that friends lists are visible.

  • What I find interesting is how everyone is suddenly ganging up on Orkut, Friendster, etc. Yes, it/they have their problems, but the snowballing recent criticism of this genre has taken on a life of its own. It’s as if the “Heathers” (socially-perceptive popular kids who rule through leading the group’s exclusion behavior) have clued in to the idea that Orkut, the new kid, would be an easy target– and now everyone else is jumping in to pick on it as well. (Not that they aren’t also providing intelligent and useful criticism along the way.)

  • Denouncing social software

    Denounce, a parody site, is all over social software this week: Friendster Secretly Shares Member Information with Government Amazon Launches New Social Network Called “Pricekut” And if we’re really into ranting about visible networks, danah boyd’s apo…

  • Denouncing social software

    Denounce, a parody site, is all over social software this week: Friendster Secretly Shares Member Information with Government Amazon Launches New Social Network Called “Pricekut” And if we’re really into ranting about visible networks, danah boyd’s apo…

  • Denouncing social software

    Denounce, a parody site, is all over social software this week: Friendster Secretly Shares Member Information with Government Amazon Launches New Social Network Called “Pricekut” And if we’re really into ranting about visible networks, danah boyd’s apo…

  • I have to agree — most of the criticisms I’ve seen of Orkut to date have been along the lines of “The food is TERRIBLE! And the portions are so small!”

  • Randy

    I for one want an invite to try and digest what the heck Orkut has that everyone else is missing. *Send me an invite please!* As far as innovation is concerned the real innovation in this is being able to take the whole thing mobile! Taking it with you to meetings and to conferences where you can meet a new person and establish instant credibility through FOAF.

  • To clarify my previous: I don’t think that a backlash / lynch-mob mentality is a problem per se. The question is, what is it directed towards and where do you go with it?

  • Ken

    The thing I don’t get about the whole ratings system is that there is no reason why you shouldn’t give all your friends maximum points, and you will give them high ratings, because they’re your friends. It’s like a bad implementation of Cory Doctorow’s Whuffie — but I’m not sure that I would want good implementation either unless that act of rating was implicit in some other action. Technorati ranking, for example, feels like a good system, even though it’s one-dimensional, because my explicit action is one of linking, not rating. It also has more credibility than your # of friends, because it indicates that, not only do I know you, but I listen to what you have to say.

    And fans? At first it seemed kinda of interesting, as well as appropriate for say someone like danah, or Joi, or Orkut, or anybody else that’s prominent enough in a community. But for the other 99% of the people on orkut that spend their lives living below the radar, it comes across as weird, awkward, and stalker-ish: “Hi, you have a not-so-secret admirer.”

  • joe

    I just got rid of all my fans after talking to you the other day… stupid shit.

  • Social Networks and Network Games

    Feeding the social software beast is so last week, but I’ll mention a few points and leave it alone until…

  • Not Quite Yet

    Well, we’re negotiating intergenerational ready-to-go-ness issues before we acutally leave, so I wanted to point to danah’s contempt for orkut. I second several of her disappointments (actually, since other people have already seconded them…

  • Orkut spent already?

    Orkut might be spent which would make since as orkut is Finnish slang for orgasm. Seems like a bad thing to name a busines you would want to last for awhile. Reminds me of a joke a friend of mine…

  • Orkut spent already?

    Orkut might be spent which would make since as orkut is Finnish slang for orgasm. Seems like a bad thing to name a busines you would want to last for awhile. Reminds me of a joke a friend of mine…

  • Orkut spent already?

    Orkut might be spent which would make since as orkut is Finnish slang for orgasm. Seems like a bad thing to name a busines you would want to last for awhile. Reminds me of a joke a friend of mine…

  • Ken

    hmmm, I thought you could be a fan of someone you weren’t friends with. I had seen an example of this earlier, where one guy went around and made himself a fan of all the women with cute profile photos (I tested my hypothesis by clicking on female profiles and seeing if he was listed). But that account got reset, so I guess it wasn’t really a feature.

  • Isn’t this just an experiment with a beta-version social network engine? I assumed the features weren’t that big a deal. If I was Google, I would build something that would scale quickly with enough features to create some degree of complexity, so I could play with the database and indexes.

  • http://www.diepunyhumans.com/archives/006980.html

    Orkut’s back up, but seems not to have fixed whatever loophole it is that lets other Orkuties spam my messaging inbox there. That, combined with danah boyd’s ranty takedown of their crappy terms of service (thanks, Xeni), pretty much means…

  • Orkut spent already?

    Orkut might be spent which would make since as orkut is Finnish slang for orgasm. Seems like a bad thing to name a busines you would want to last for awhile. Reminds me of a joke a friend of mine…

  • You’re ranting about a FOAF service that’s in beta. I mean… what were you expecting when you signed up? Maybe i’ve just managed to keep my expectations so low that i’ve managed to not be disappointed. I saw Friendster as one huge suckassfest and stayed away. orkut is like a Friendster with a more intelligent infrastructure. That’s it. The suck still pervades it and will continue to pervade it because that is its nature. I reiterate: what did you want?

    You complain that it’s invitation only; i say, “Hey, it’s in BETA.” Beta tests are usually limited in scope. 2 through 5 (and, to some degree, 7) are clearly misfeatures that you could, possibly, suggest to Orkut as things to fix or work on. 6 is contradictory; you complain that it’s broken even as you acknowledge it’s not a “production” site. If you aren’t interested in helping to make it work, then you shouldn’t be on a beta site.

  • Itamar – Invite-only means that everyone must be connected to the core cluster, those directly involved with Google. That’s not very democratizing.

    rone – What’s a beta with users in the five digits? If you let something spread that far, it’s not a beta… it’s a pop culture meme. I can guarantee you that most people aren’t there to help; they’re there because they’re curious. Wallop is a beta.

    Paul – i’ve been ranting about the YASNS phenomenon since March. There are lots of places to go with the rants. One of the obvious is to address the concerns, the failures, etc. I’ve helped out with lots of companies working on this stuff.

  • Orkutting Up

    dana boyd posted a little diatribe about the knew social network site Orkut, a new Google project that feels like a beta test of concept and functionality to me. Marc Canter says he was banned from Orkut for reasons unknown;…

  • The Buzz From the Blogorati Ain’t Great…

    But orkut keeps chuggin nonetheless. Xeni sounds off about how she can’t seem to bail from the system (I think they never considered that anyone would *ever* want to leave…), Marc gets tossed in jail without a phone call or a lawyer, Corante is not p…

  • Orkut: Please won’t you be my neighbor?

    If only we humans weren’t such connection junkies, we wouldn’t feel compelled to join yet another online community. The frustration, contempt, humor and apathy that many people are expressing toward Orkut is due in part because this site, like it’s…

  • Yeah… I thought about being your fan for a second… then it occured to me that that is kind of creepy and if I think you’re cool I can just tell you myself. I’m keeping my fan selections minimal.

    Regarding 1 and 6, I think they intended for it to be beta, and intended for the invite-only thing to keep it from growing too fast, but we all can see that didn’t work.

    Regarding the bug with the email addresses, and the terms of service… that is scary and I’m taking my link to my blog off my profile now.

  • Jim Race

    “And what the hell are you supposed to DO once you get on the damn thing?”

    Perhsp you’re bedazzled by all your purported bells and whistles.

    “I know it’s an alpha…”(followed by classic whining of someone who forgets what they just said).

    If you venture beack, I suggest you read *this* rant:

    http://www.orkut.com/CommMsgs.aspx?cmm=1328&tid=3

  • Jim Race

    “And what the hell are you supposed to DO once you get on the damn thing?”

    Perhsp you’re bedazzled by all your purported bells and whistles.

    “I know it’s an alpha…”(followed by classic whining of someone who forgets what they just said).

    If you venture back, I suggest you read *this* rant:

    http://www.orkut.com/CommMsgs.aspx?cmm=1328&tid=3

  • It’s the demographics, stupid

    Everybody is talking about the good, the bad, thethe ugly and the too many of social software, especially orkut but Jeremy Zawodny’s blog: Why Google needs Orkut is the only really good theory about why would Google bother with the Jar Jar Binks of soc…

  • My biggest problem with Orkut is that it mixes social networking with dating too much. Why should I know that my business aquaintance X has an open marriage? I think that if you do not list yourself as desiring a relationship using the system, that information should not be asked for (or revealed).

    Other problems are things like being able to ask someone “Why are you requesting to be my friend?”. I’ve now got two requests from people I don’t think I know, but who knows, they might be fans of my blog. There are lots of other places like this — why doesn’t the system ask me for some text when I click on an existing user’s “add as a friend” button so that I can say hi in the welcome message?

    There are lots of little things like this, not big technical problems, but things that do require careful social thinking before implementation.

  • In my view, it doesn’t matter how many people have joined, or that the majority of the people there aren’t there with the intention to beta test. The point is that they SHOULD be. orkut is a fun toy at the moment and we need to play with it, and if it’s broken, we tell the people who make it. But this venting (not just yours, but the beating it’s taking everywhere) really smacks of “How DARE they not meet my standards! Don’t they know who i am??”

    If you find that orkut is the sort of tool you’d like to use if only it sucked a little less, then work with the makers to improve it. Punishing it in public is useless.

    And let’s drop this “democratizing” crap. The Internet and all of its various subsystems (the Web, Usenet, etc.) are not a democracy, and they never were. It is (and always was) a foolish expectation and it needs to be dropped.

  • Well, the invitation-only thing might have been an elitist approach. On the other hand, it might have been an attempt to limit both the number and nature of the beta testers. And still again, it might have been just a brilliant marketing ploy. Anyway, that exclusivity didn’t last long.

    I agree with all the rest of your rant. Also, their terms show contempt for business users, too:

    “The orkut.com service is made available for your personal, non-commercial use only. Businesses, organizations or other legal entities may not use the orkut.com service for any purpose.”

    Yet, you can put “business networking” as one of your reasons for being there?!? So, if I happen to have a corporation instead of a sole proprietorship, I can’t talk business on the site?!? Utter nonsense.

    Anyway, Orkut highlights in a big way the need for segmentation and boundaries. Within hours after joining, I had someone wanting to be my friend whose entire profile consisted of variations on the word “piss”. Lovely.

    Needless to say, this type of environment will NEVER have any appeal to mainstream business users.

  • Why I Like It Broken

    Even though Liz graciously let us off the hook for dancing the night away in a trendy club (it had been a long day for Pippa, and we discerned that her role as entertainer to the faculty might expire if we neglected her weariness), still I didn’t…

  • I shouldn’t have commented on a value judgement with a technical argument, yeah. So to restate as a motivational theory – most of the choices Orkut made might be due to wanting to easily extract meaningful marketing data. This can explain things ranging from “invitation only” (google employees’ friends probably tend to have disposable income, so social coherence is a plus) to the way friends linking works and the information you are able to enter. In which case the elitism is a result of the implementors’ perception of the dictates of the Business Plan.

  • uhhh- how about… DOn’t use it!

  • Orkutlery

    I’m on Orkut as of today. I don’t need to link to it, and I refuse to not capitalize its “O.” I’ll send you an invite if you want to dick around on yet another social networking site. With so…

  • to do as soon as I have time…

    I want to foaf-ify my blog. It’s pretty similar to rss sindication, so shouldn’t be too difficult. This was prompted by the orkut bashing that’s going on over on danah’s blog. I think orkut is certainly amusing, but she’s right that it’s not taking thi…

  • Invitation-only is a convenient way of making sure the graph of all users remains connected. There are good reasons for enforcing that constraint that have nothing to do with elitism.

    Of course, you’re always welcome to build your own service for the excluded masses.

  • to do as soon as I have time…

    I want to foaf-ify my blog. It’s pretty similar to rss sindication, so shouldn’t be too difficult. This was prompted by the orkut bashing that’s going on over on danah’s blog. I think orkut is certainly amusing, but she’s right that it’s not taking thi…

  • to do as soon as I have time…

    I want to foaf-ify my blog. It’s pretty similar to rss sindication, so shouldn’t be too difficult. This was prompted by the orkut bashing that’s going on over on danah’s blog. I think orkut is certainly amusing, but she’s right that it’s not taking thi…

  • cj_

    I totally missed the part where someone put a gun to your head and MADE you sign up for this FREE service.

    Also, anyone that actually uses the term “technocrati” in a serious sentence loses all credibility in my book.