Monday, February 02, 2004

Thoughts on Orkut

It seems that Orkut is getting a lot of press. Anyone with any interest in Social Networking has had their say. Some of the comments are pretty interesting. Here's an overview:

Warren Ellis--comic book author and blogger extraordinaire--claims:

It's faster than Fuckster and Tribe, but it shows that all these friend-of-a-friend things have really hit a wall. I mean, what can you actually do aside from invite all your friends and piss about on a couple of small message boards? Message boards that, unlike Tribe, allow anonymous postings and therefore devalue the message board experience? What happens after that? After you've gotten all your friends in -- whom you send email to or IM regularly in any case, presumably. That's it. All done. Until, I guess, yet another social network system opens and you start all over again.

Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow--SF author, EFF exec, blogger, etc.--states:

Do these things have to suck? Damnifiknow. I know that there's a bunch of stuff I'd like from a social network analysis of my own inbox, voicecalls, and so forth.

Foe Romeo--media type and (of course) blogger--provides some constructive criticism for Orkut:

Perhaps Google could add value by introducing a sense of authentication to FOAF, by indicating reciprocal links between FOAF files. I know that this result for Fiona Romeo is the correct one because her friends link to it. Oh, and I know that Matt Jones is really a friend of Fiona Romeo, because he says so too.

There are a few other interesting takes on Orkut out there notably danah boyd's.

My own interest in Orkut, however, is a bit different. To be honest, I'm not that interested in the social network as a thing in itself. What's the value of just the network? Mr. Ellis seems to sum everything up with his statement: "what can you actually do aside from invite all your friends and piss about on a couple of small message boards?" I'm considerably more interested in how social networks shape the interpretation and construction of information. This interest may seem a bit outside the scope of conventional social network tools but it needn't be. I have a few recommendations of my own for Orkut (and it's owner Google).

1- Get back to basics. Stay away from dating and business luncheons and stick to what you know: information retrieval,
2- Instead of forcing users to engage in new activities in your social network environment (like message boards), try supporting the users actual behaviour: like information retrieval, and
3- When I use information tools like the Internet I'm far less interested in who else uses it and for more interested in getting information i.e., information retrieval.

Perhaps I've made my point. For me, Orkut in its current incarnation is useless. If, however, Google could somehow use the information gained from the social network to optimize search results I may be interested in joining. Surely Google could tweek the PageRank ratings I see based on the query behaviour of my peers. By utilizing social network theory Google could operationalize some of the insights of Granovetter's Strength of Weak Ties. And that would be a tool worth using!