social divisions between Orkut & Facebook in Brazil

I have been writing about social divisions between Facebook and MySpace for some time now, focused exclusively on American teenager dynamics. Yet, every time I post about this subject, folks write to me to ask if I know much about social divisions elsewhere in the world. Alas, I have never done fieldwork outside of the US and so most of my knowledge is second-hand. Even worse, I’m never quite sure where to point people to.

When word of my upcoming article – White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook – got around, I got another wave of questions about global differences. But I also received a wonderful email from Pedro Augusto at the Centro de Tecnologia e Sociedade in Rio. He wrote to share his observations about the social divisions that took place between Orkut and Facebook in Brazil. I asked if it would be OK for me to share his email with you and he kindly obliged.

Social networking really hit the Brazilians when Orkut was launched, in 2004. In the beginning (2004-2005), Brazilian users were mainly the geeks and tech-savvy boys and girls who could afford a broadband connection. Also, at that time, you had to be invited by some insider to join. So people like Julian Dibbell and John Perry Barlow, who had many connections in Brazil, started sending invites to their friends. The invitation-only membership contributed to the impression that it was cool to be part of that restricted group, and Brazilians became crazy about it.

Today Orkut is by far the largest social network and the most accessed website in Brazil. There is about 65 million internet users in the country , and (approx.) 90% of internet users use social networking (79% of this number are Orkut users), according to IBOPE/Netratings. Which means that there is approximately 25 million Brazilians at Orkut. So it is no coincidence that in 2008 Google transferred all of Orkut technical operations and management to Brazil.

In spite (or because) of all this success, there is a great deal of discrimination towards Orkut. Some people claim it to have become a website for lower-income classes, and migrate to Facebook. This impression is caused by the rising numbers of digital inclusion in Brazil. There are two important factors contributing for digital inclusion here: expansion of broadband connections and the rise of the so-called “LAN houses” phenomenon. As pointed out by researchers at the Center for Technology & Society at FGV, LAN-houses (a sort of cybercafé that can be found especially in lower-income areas) are responsible for 45% of all Internet access and 74% of lower-income classes access. There are far more more LAN Houses in the country (108,000) than movie theaters (2,200) and bookstores (2,600). In Rocinha, one of the largest shantytowns (favelas), there are more than 100 LAN Houses. They provide Internet access and other services involving technology and more. LAN Houses are places where young kids gather for social encounters, playing games, visiting social networks, and internet messaging. They have become a public space for socializing. At the beginning of this phenomenon (2001-2003), people would gather in LAN Houses for playing games (like Counter Strike and Warcraft III), mainly. But after Orkut, most of the users are going to LAN Houses for checking their online profiles and connecting with friends.

On the other side, Facebook took longer to hit the Brazilians. Before 2009, Facebook was used mainly by kids or adults who traveled abroad, as a way to keep in touch with friends abroad. Even with more technical resources than Orkut, Facebook’s popularity wasn’t high. But, in 2009, the winds changed direction. A significant portion of former Orkut users started migrating to Facebook. Now they are 3,6 million users.

Today it’s common to hear higher-income class kids and tech-savvy geeks saying that “Orkut is over”, that they see no use for Orkut and that they are deleting their profile. In fact, some users are indeed deleting there profiles, or simply letting them idle. They say Facebook is cooler and better. Orkut is now kitsch and full of fakes and non sense communities. However, the largest portion of Orkut users seem not to care about this criticism, and keep using the site with passion everyday. Personally, I (Pedro Augusto) have no problems with Orkut, but as a lot of people whom I’m used to interact are going to Facebook, I’m reducing my time using Orkut.

As pointed by Ronaldo Lemos, Director at Center for Technology and Society, Orkut has become a better mirror of the Brazilian society, with its class and social differences. That may be the reason some people are not happy with it. There is a lot of diversity there, different from its beginning in 2004, where there was a pretty homogenic group of people there (almost like Facebook today). This certainly bother hipsters, fashion kinds and other high-income groups. There is even a neologism: “orkutificação”. In English it would be something as “orkutization”. It’s used as a negative term to refer to this “here comes everybody” feel, in which orkut has become full of “strange” people. Nowadays, there is even people saying that Twitter is becoming “orkutized”, because it is gaining popularity in Brazil and is becoming more diverse as well.

Pedro Augusto, Centro de Tecnologia e Sociedade, FGV DIREITO RIO

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10 thoughts on “social divisions between Orkut & Facebook in Brazil

  1. Marcelo Negrini

    I’m Brazilian, a former Microsoft employee and I work with online marketing and social media. The divide between Orkut and Facebook is real, but it probably won’t last long. Either our stupid so-called “elite” likes it or not, Facebook will be “orkutized”. Google is doing a great job at destroying Orkut. Innovation is almost nonexistent, and they treat developers and marketers like shit.

    No APIs, no streams, no analytical tools. Marketers in Brazil are doing a lot of things in Facebook, in practice inviting people to migrate. It is a reality that social networks became contaminated by brands and marketing (and that is not totally negative), but Google Brazil either doesn’t care or doesn’t have adequate funding to leverage and help other leverage Orkut’s great user base. As brands offer more and more incentives for people to migrate, Orkut’s importance will fade.

    One of the few things preventing the exodus is the large number of pictures (with comments) people post in Orkut. The rise of Orkut in the lower-middle class in Brazil was coincident with people buying their first digital cameras. Many people have thousands of pictures posted.

  2. Carlos Rocha

    It’s highly dangerous to assume brazilian people are divided between Orkut & Facebook. I am Brazilian and I use both. So, as according to the researcher, Orkut is for poor people and Facebook is for richer people. Well, things put this way, I must be called something in between poor and rich, something like mid class?
    Of course not, this has nothing to do with social classes alone, the reason is a lot deeper.
    This is completely non sense, there is no such a difference, lots of people use both and some are already moving their photos from one to another. Or should we call all out of them mid class?
    People go to where it’s easier to get in touch. Social networks are about people, not features. A professor wants to get in touch to his/her students and they use whatever service is more suitable, it doesn’t matter if it’s called Orkut, Facebook or even Twitter, it doesn’t even matter if it’s more used by “A”, “B” or “C” social class.
    Social Networks are not a way to segregate people, it is completely the other way around.
    Marcelo said the real truth. Orkut was big boss, because it was the first to get known by lots of people, but it is falling down because they made tons of wrong decisions. They are very focused on adding features, but don’t care about making people getting in touch in an easier way. Facebook is by far easier to use and manage, plus it’s a lot less invasive and you can monitor and access it from a wide range of software. You can even integrate it on your own software.

  3. Tim Case

    Have you noticed how many top trends on Twitter are from Brazil? Top Trends are being gamed by Brazilians and there is a cultural reason for this, if Twitter is wise they would not follow Google’s model with Orkut and instead make an effort to understand why Brazil can have such a large affect on twitter. Brazilian popularity caused non-Brazilians to leave Orkut, of course Twitter has no rival but you can see that non-Brazilians are getting annoyed with the whole Top Trends thing and it will be interesting to see if a culture war develops.

  4. Paulo Rená

    In simple words, I fully support Pedro in his perception. There is a division.
    And it would be really interesting to think about the difference between MSN (Windows Live Message) and other instant messangers, mostly GTalk and Skype. I think MSN (yes, we keep on using this really old name) is the brazilian Orkut of messengers.

  5. Chris M.

    Carlos Rocha, I think you are interpreting wrong what the email reproduced here said.

    “It’s highly dangerous to assume brazilian people are divided between Orkut & Facebook. I am Brazilian and I use both. So, as according to the researcher, Orkut is for poor people and Facebook is for richer people.”

    No, it’s not dangerous to use statistics to conclude that lower income people make the biggest volume of Orkut users in Brazil, and that is common to hear from higher-income class kids and tech-savvy geeks that “Orkut is over”. I just heard it from my tech-savvy geek brother.

    The fact that you, and many other upper or middle class Brazilians still use it don’t change the statistics. There is a clear migration of higher income users to Facebook, no doubt about it. Don’t confuse statistics with anecdote. You can be as rich as Bill Gates and use Orkut, and it won’t change the facts.

  6. Bertil Hatt

    > It’s highly dangerous to assume brazilian people are divided between Orkut & Facebook.

    Well, the initial message reads “Personally,… a lot of people whom I’m used to interact are going to Facebook, I’m reducing my time using Orkut.” so no one ever split. Please, refrain from being offended at your own exaggeration.

  7. Mayra Souza

    Facebook will become same as Orkut in Brazil… It is just a question of timing, trend…

  8. Marcela

    Interesting update, thanks. I’ve been getting a lot of twitter friend requests from Brazilian strangers lately which reminded me of 6 yrs ago when the same thing was happening to me on orkut…

  9. Sergio

    I’m from Bogotá Colombia, but been living in Lima Perú for the past 7 years. Do to my work I’ve been in Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela and the only place where I’ve seen the LAN houses is in Perú, all over the country. In fact, before this article I thought this was a fenomenom only seen here. I do not have the data, but there are more Cabinas (that’s how they call the LAN houses) than pollerias (restaurants where they sell chicken), an believe me, you find 2 pollerias every block, no matter the neiborhood your in (low, middle or high class income).

    This is a very beatiful fenomenom. The democratization of internet. I’ve tryed to understand way this happened here an not in other places and one of my assuptions is that due to the massive migration of peruvians to Europe and USA the spred of technologies like MSN, Skype and Hi5 have become mainstreem due to the necesity of family and friends to keep in touch. But Colombia has exactly the same migration if not worst, and you do not see the cabinas every where over there.

    Unfotunately there is no serious study of the impact of the cabinas in our culture. there should be a major study lead by an educational institution on this regard.

    PS: Here first it was Hi5 with 5 million users and but in the past year or so facebook has grown exponentialy to 2 million users. Surley there has to be something of this social divide here as well, but it aint that clear, at lest from where I stand.


  10. Marcos Lusitano

    …And, heh! Personally, It isn’t solely about differences between economic social classes and their preferences for Social Networks… What troubles me more is the high influx of uncultured, unlearned people joining in. No prejudices meant, but when I log into Facebook I expect to see real messages from my relatives and friends, and not to be flooded by nasty jokes, dirty images, or “righteous” people, with their ton of “I’m a Christian you’re not. Hah! You’re going to rot in Hell!” posts. It seems that they doesn’t really have *anything* interesting to say, and instead of having the wisdom to remain silent, they decide to pull the bullshit-trigger and ‘shoot’ non-sense at everyone unlucky enough to reach their walls.

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