The Only Lesson Product Managers Can Learn From Orkut : Nobody Enters A Dirty Cafe

The MTV Youth Icon of 2007!

Orkut is shutting down. Today is the D-day. 

A lot of us would recall our first experience of an actual social network (not counting Yahoo chats) in Orkut, which also won the MTV Youth Icon Award in 2007!

For a lot of us, it was the first working version of a FOAF (Friend Of A Friend) algorithm. Orkut led to a lot of discovery of friends and ‘real-life’ contacts.

Orkut was the first real product that brought social networking to India and very soon, it meant for social networking what Google meant for search. “Orkutting” caught on as a term. One must note that this rarely happens in the internet industry.

With such a large clutter of sites to choose from, a particular site rarely defines its category in a way that Orkut did in India. When a site starts defining a category, it is extremely difficult for another site to, not just overtake it in terms of usage but also start defining the category.

In fact, by 2008 Orkut was at its peak. The social network had conquered India and Brazil, two big emerging markets that mattered the most.

And then, it all fell apart.

India Search Trends for Orkut.
India Search Trends for Orkut.

What Really Happened With Orkut?

Did Facebook kill Orkut?

Well, actually not (read this analysis when Facebook was just about to make inroads into the Indian market). The truth is that Orkut was never big in US of A, and Facebook was more focused on killing MySpace than Orkut.

So who killed Orkut?

Orkut actually killed Orkut.

And here is how.orkut in hindi, bengali, marathi tamil

Think Metrics. Think SLA

In consumer business, SLAs are not just about hard metrics (average spent time/average engagement), but a lot about soft metrics.

For example, in its early days, Facebook just ensured that the site’s uptime is the most important factor to take care of.

“Let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we DON”T CRASH EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go, don’t you get that? [Read : So What Exactly Is A Product]

How Orkut Could Have Saved Orkut?

Well, the soft metrics for Orkut lied in controlling spam.

Orkut was massively attacked by spammers, but the team never cared about it.

Nobody Wants To Enter A Dirty Cafe


Nobody wants to enter a dirty cafe which smells bad and has spooky characters welcoming you.

This is what really happened with Orkut, which was marred with spams and privacy woes.

In fact, this is the basic premise of Broken Windows theory :

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

This is exactly what happened with Orkut. And then, the network efffect played its role (you left because your friends left).

Don’t let it happen to your product. Clean it up!

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