On Thursday, a consortium led by Google (GOOG) launched an initiative to create a list of standards which would encourage open source programmers to develop software for Google's social networking site Orkut.com. In addition to Orkut, Google’s platform, OpenSocial, is said to be compatible across all of the member’s websites, including Friendster, LinkedIn, hi5, Plaxo, and Ning.
The move is believed to be in response to a similar initiative by Facebook last spring, which lead to the development of 5,000 smaller programs capable of integration into individual users’ pages. Popular programs such as RockYou and iLike provide users additional customization within their individual page. Essentially, you get a "Subway sandwich" effect: Your site built with your specifications, hold the onions.
Since News Corp’s (NWS) $480 million dollar acquisition of Myspace in 2005, significant attention has been given to these social networking sites. Google’s own Orkut has a loyal following in Brazil and Asia, but has yet to generate much interest from American net-workers. Google hopes the addition of these smaller programs will have a remunerative effect on the site.
As of August 2007 Google estimated a following of 67,000,000 users strong. Driven by curiosity, I attempted to set up my own account with Orkut to see what type of social networking could be had in the greater Seattle metropolitan area. Using my Gmail account I was able to gain access to the site almost instantaneously.
Due to time constraints, I was only able to perform a limited survey of the site. A user search for ‘Seattle, WA’ produced an abundance of single, 20-something males utilizing catch phrases and obnoxious quips such as, “single and ready to mingle” to spark interest from visitors. Comparing this to my previous experiences on Myspace and Facebook, it was apparent that Google’s site needed some new life.
Jokes aside, Orkut sits at the tenth largest traffic-ranking spot on a global level. Additional, Vic Gundotra an executive at Google believes this enhancement rich software will perpetuate Internet traffic, enhance advertising, and in turn benefit Google.Google's initiative comes a week after Microsoft announced a $240 million, 1.6% investment in Facebook. According to the New York Times, the deal values Facebook at an absurd $15 billion. Given that the company is projected to bring in $150 million in revenues this year, it becomes transparent that Microsoft (MSFT) might have paid a 'slight' premium.
Although comparable to Orkut’s 67,000,000, Facebook's 50 million user base boosts an additional 200,000 members daily.While this move shows desperation on the part of Microsoft, it reaffirms the importance of these social networking sites. For Orkut to gain additional market share in the US, it will need to distinguish itself among the competition.
Google’s ability to differentiate itself from the competition has been its strong point. From strengthening its search algorithms and incorporating digital satellite imagery into mapping, Google was able to distinguish itself from established leaders such as Yahoo.com (YHOO) and Mapquest. By greatly enhancing existing services and products, Google was able to establish significant brand equity for themselves. For Google, the problem with Orkut may not be with its interface, accessibility nor design, but more so with its defunct, quasi association with Google. Perhaps the time has come for an Orkut name change?