Saturday, February 17, 2007

Orkut, the killer wail

(I’ve made a mini-career of ranting against the evil online forum Orkut in lighthearted – but sincerely meant – stories/columns. Here’s a composite)

I’ve developed a sudden respect for email as a form of communication. This was completely unanticipated: back in 1998, when I was so much older and wiser, I numbered among the technophobes who made sad clucking sounds about the imminent demise of good old-fashioned letter-writing and the general depersonalisation of human interaction. (Note: this was purely theoretical. In practice I preferred to avoid all human company anyway.)

But the relentless march of progress makes fools of us all. Where email was once the enemy, the harbinger of a cold dystopian age where people would talk to their computers instead of to each other, it now seems positively warm and personal compared to some of the stuff that goes down on the Internet. These days, when I receive an email – personally addressed to me – from a friend or acquaintance, my eyes brim over with tears of gratitude. “At last!” my wounded heart cries, “Private, one-to-one communication!”

The reason for this change in attitude is the advent in my life of something called Orkut. Even if you aren’t Net-savvy, you’ve no doubt heard of this ghastly social-networking forum: it’s been in the news a lot, what with controversies about online hate communities with such names as “Slap Gandhi’s other Cheek” (or similar names, at any rate).

My problem isn't with the hate-communities, it's with these intensely annoying things called “scrapbooks”, the virtual messageboards on which Orkutters scribble things at each other. These are public forums – anyone with an Orkut account can see anyone else’s scrapbook – but going by some of the things I’ve witnessed, no one seems to realise this. Lovers cootchie-coo and send personal notes of the sort that would in an earlier, more genteel age (that is, two years ago) have been restricted to private email or SMS. Colleagues sitting three feet from each other in that long-forgotten parallel universe we once knew as “the real world” use their scrapbooks to bitch about other colleagues (who probably have Orkut accounts too) and even bosses.

There are too many other examples to list – and most of them make you wonder if man deserves to be at the top of the food chain – but one that caught my eye recently was an ex-colleague leaving her telephone number on a friend’s scrapbook, with the hushed message “please don’t give this number to M” – completely unmindful that the said M was on the friend’s Orkut list as well.
All this suggests one of three things: 1) a deep-rooted need for exhibitionism, 2) a touching – and foolish – faith in the idea that people respect other people’s privacy enough to avoid reading scraps that don’t directly concern them, or 3) plain cluelessness about how technology works.

Female friends routinely express annoyance about the many strange men who hit on them after seeing their profiles. There are random testosterone-charged alpha-males trawling this community, they tut-tut; they put up photographs of their flexed biceps and leave messages like “Hi! Wanna make fransip?” or something less refined like "wanna make sexies?". But with due respect to all ladies who dislike being harassed thus, I must proffer this observation: of all the people I’ve seen using the Orkut scrapbook to communicate, these desperate Romeos are easily among the most purposeful. At least they know exactly what they want and are trying wholeheartedly to get it (and despite their inane and ungrammatical methods some of them might even succeed, there being nearly as many stupid girls in cyberspace as there are horny guys). I can’t say the same for most of the Orkut users I personally know; the chief purpose of their existence seems to be the accumulation of as many scraps, “fans” and “testimonials” as can possibly be collected in a single cyber-lifetime.

When friends discover my Orkut profile (which, I must quickly clarify, was created purely to research for a story) and send me scraps saying “Yo dude! Wassup?” and suchlike, I politely convey that I would rather use email than communicate by scrapbook. But it doesn’t work. I answer a friend’s scrap with a mail, but instead of simply clicking on “Reply” he posts another scrap. And so it goes.

Well, if you can’t beat them, join them – so maybe I’ll form a “I hate Orkut” community. Meanwhile, in the interests of fairness (because that's so important to me), here’s the other side of the story; the transcript of a Gmail chat I had with a friend, an avid Orkut user (name withheld):

“Orkut is like life: pointless”

Jabberwock: Why do you love Orkut scrapping so much? Is it because you’re young, foolish and impressionable?

Orkut Lover: Um. It’s an amusing and pointless waste of time. It doesn’t work the same way email does, because other people are seeing and responding to our messages to each’s more like a messageboard.

J: So most of your friends know each other?

OL: Most of my friends on Orkut know at least some of my other friends on Orkut.

J: While scrapping, do you ever slap yourself on the forehead and think “Look what I’m doing! I am SO jobless!!!”

OL: Of course. That’s why it’s fun...we’re all completely aware of how pointless it all is. It’s a bit like life in general.

J: You realise that while you’re pretending to be so clever and “deliberately pointless”, you’re really just as addicted to the evil thing as anyone else is?

OL: Um. No, not really.

J: Well, it’s time you did.

OL: No, I refuse! How dare you try to make me self aware?
It could be worse! I could be religious!

J: What do you have against religious people? Have you ever started a community called “I Hate Religion”?

OL: No...should I?
Orkut is just like...reading a Mills and Boon novel after a day of studying :P

J: I’ll use that quote. “This precocious teenager likens scrapbooking to reading an M&B after college. However, she still refuses to admit that she’s an addict, preferring to hide behind a veneer of delusional pretentious intellectualism.”

OL: I may never speak to you again!

J: Sure, why speak when you can, duh, SCRAP?


  1. I'm with you on that...all these hideous facebooks and myfives and what not, they really leave you wondering what the majority of industries with a largely 20-60 age group working in them (namely, everyone), is doing with their time... what would people do with their time if they didn't have such distractions in their lives... would the world be a scarier, darker, emptier place?
    Here's an interesting view of the whole online communities bizz, illustrates a large part of your post quite well...
    Facebook stalker
    I actually had to ask around as to exactly what the 'wall' was, and I understand now that it's the same as the scrapbook in orkut...

  2. LOL @ "why talk when you can scrap" :).

    Whole heartedly agree to all said. I think coochie-cooing in public also has to do with the sudden acceptability of the same let's say in past 1-2 years. PDA is in. Being shy is out.
    The rest is definitely foolishness topped with the fact that we are so accustomed to using mail and the fact that it stays one-to-one that one ignores things which are best not ignored. Something like ppl in a mailing list, doing a reply all and continuing with a private hi-hello conversation completely forgetting that a zillion others are privy to it.

    To avoid the public nature of scrapbooks, I mostly delete all the scraps that form a "Conversation" - be they the ones on my scrapbook or the ones I wrote somewhere on someone else's. If all ppl have spying tendencies like me, my life would be an open "scrap"book!! :)

  3. oh and it was a refreshing change to read something that's not literary :p :)

  4. Too good! Had a hearty laugh going thru this. Not sure whether I want to get into value judgement on the use/ misuse / overuse / abuse of such social sites ... I guess each one to their own agendas ... we can just let ppl be!
    But yes I do agree we must be cautious at all times, some points made by you were very relavant.
    But over all a great piece!

  5. dude...i LOVE orkut. :D

  6. but what if you find personal communication too stressful emotionally and yet want to "keep in touch" ?

  7. I'm convinced it is a deep-rooted love for exhibitionism. I don't think people are naive or technology-challenged. They are actually wishing, hoping, wanting that X reads their scrap to Y about how much they hate Z. or how that boy T made a pass at them. Or such like. And all of that in abbreviated sms language. ugh.

  8. renovatio: thanks for the Youtube link. couldn't see it because the connection was very slow but will try again

    Twilight fairy: I think you have a point about the PDA. However, what cracks me up is that the cootchie-cooers are okay with selected people (eg, their mutual friends) being privy to the PDA, but they get all righteous and shocked if someone else happens to make a smart-ass comment. For heaven's sake, if you know you're using a public forum, take the bad with the good.

    Shivam: allow me to direct you to a previous post on smileys.

    Surabhi: thanks

    but what if you find personal communication too stressful emotionally and yet want to "keep in touch" ?

    Alok: simple. Use Orkut!

    clit.chatting: I feel your pain.

    the girl from ipanema: probably. the species is (d)evolving at a rate that's too fast for me to keep up!

  9. orkut is a forum for serious people to watch other (supposedly) serious people make absolute clowns of themselves ...

    if nothing else, the "fraaaaandship" and "sexies" testesterone mob is good for a few laughs

  10. Jai, You take care of your punctuation's even in your chats. That is commendable.

  11. I forgot that one... I mean fraandship's been done to death, but the 'sexies' is a new one for me :p

  12. but, but isn't a blog a deep rooted need for exhibitionism?? In the more genteel past,you would have written copious notebooks and shown it to friends and the odd publisher. Now you "publish" it so jobless people like me can surf the net, read it and spend a lifetime posting comments......

  13. Posts like this makes me feel all that much better about deleting my Orkut and Facebook profiles.

  14. I don't get it. The person with whom you Gtalk-ed with has not really justified Orkut use. Most Orkut friends of mine(who btw are ppl I know or have atleast met) do admit that they are somewhat addicted to it. The Scrapbook is THE selling point of Orkut. As far as communities is concerned, most people join them to show off their preferences (and their stance in being associated with some cool rock band, or some protest movement 'Anti Reservation' that would make them be viewed favorably). Some people do make use of communities, like I found a certain comic book download community as a brilliant resource with loads of rapidshare links and another community which had serial keys to crack some software(possible future copyright issue?). But by and large, we follow the check Email, check Orkut/Facebook and the like routine when we open a web browser. And it's scraps we look for when we go to our respective Orkut homes.

    Of course I may be biased in my view because a lot of my scraps involve posting youtube links to a select few friends of mine and of course some blog links, or articles... apart from the usual ''ssup dude' But yes, I am usually loath to maintaining contacts and keeping in touch with friends in general(and have often been accused of the same). In that respect Orkut keeps me in touch with people in general, and that according to me makes it serve its purpose. Trust me Orkut is waaaay less gossipy or intrusive as say Facebook where if u add X as your friend it goes like a news feed to other friends of yours that you and X are now friends.
    Orkut is anyway a tiny fraction of the social networking market ruled by evil empires like MySpace and Facebook.

  15. Sorry for continuing my rant...
    The central theme of your post of course is the openness of the scrap book and people's discretion in how they use them. But that's upto the individual on how they decide to send personal info on themselves. I for one would probably scrap a person to check his email for the phone number i sent him. People also 'moderate' their scrap book these days which might sound hypocritical at times but at the end of the day, apart from the harmless fun it can be, its a lot more convenient to write one line messages to your friends when they are not on an IM.

  16. Sundhar: well, the chat was cleaned up a bit before I posted it...but on the whole, yes, I manage to avoid "SMS lingo" even in casual chats.

    Shama: I get the impression that many scrapbook addicts are like personal bloggers, except that they don't have the writer's drive that would produce 800-word posts. So they deal in a couple of sentences at a time, but still get a sense of power/self-affirmation. In the current era of self-publishing, where everyone has the opportunity to be a "writer" (that is, have something in the public domain with your name attached to it), perhaps scrapbooking is the lowest form of the trend.

  17. Facebook was the coolest thing until Zuckerberg decided to let the general public in! ARGH!
    I miss the 2004/5 Facebook :(

  18. Loved the punctuation's comment :D. Good one!

    But about Orkut in general, maybe they don't care if other people read their scraps or if they sound like idiots or anything. Maybe it's like brushing your teeth before you sleep, a vile habit.

  19. It is quite scary that orkut is number two on Alexa traffic ranking for India ahead of Google, MSN, Rediff etc.

  20. It did feel good to know that there are others who share the same view on absolute worthlessness of orkut. It scares me when people I barely know (introduced at a meeting or a gathering or just plain any place) ask me if I am on orkut!

  21. 'exhibitionism' seems to be the mantra of the era.

    perhaps it is also a good forum for Indian guys to practice their 'pick-up-lines' and insecure girls to count their increasing
    (s)crap count!

  22. I notice that you haven't posted the photo that was published in MetroNow, alongwith that article. Should I?

  23. But this is very feature of orkut that made it as sucessful.

    You have pointed out only the negative point of the public nature of Scraps, but it is the very nature that has enforce some sort of etiquette on personal messaging from strangers... those "will you make franship" scraps notwithstanding :)

    BTW, a pimp left me his number today offering me sexy gals and Aunties for rupees 1000 onwards... on my scrapbook...Perhaps, You are right afterall.


    On a related note...

  25. Who is Orkut?


  26. Totally true..
    Orkut can be real fu sometimes.. wen we see the "wanna fraasshp" ppl making an a$$ out of themslvs.. :D

  27. its time someone said it and i couldn't have agreed more with you on this.
    i found out this interesting article, perhaps relevant to your post.

  28. Hello. Long time no 'read'. Listen, does commenting on blogs fall under any similar disfavour?

    I hated being discovered on Orkut by people I've enjoyed forgetting - but I soon realised that all they want to do is add me to their lists. This way, I maintain a show of being intensely social, in touch with all, facade, and still don't get bugged by emails that remind me I haven't mailed anybody in ages.

    Even Orkut has its uses...

  29. while orkut is carrying exhibitionism to an extreme, i find most blogs guilty to of the same, to a lesser degree. esp. the ones that are nothing but an open diary of the person.

  30. Lol...

    I already have a "I-hate-orkut-community" community.

  31. hmm from the post
    all i can arrive at the post:
    Another human trying to become a smart worm...pointless you is your post...well if it is so stupid, you could ignore it...

    And what is with that guys are horny and girls are stupid statement.
    Girls can be horny too even when they are in 9 yard sarees, they need not be stupid...
    Madhu Subramaniam

  32. Of the many annoying and irritating reasons that keep me off social networking sites, I admit it has put me back in touch with some people I knew a while back. I guess it's not too hard to just ask or inquire. But then one never gets around to doing that.

  33. you know what...even i love orkut..though i agree with almost all that u hav talked abt..
    #1. orkut is just one of the things in the world..which if used properly..can turn out to be a bliss..if not, a disaster. It all depends on the person using it. I mean i use orkut to keep up wid my ex-class fellows(since i've passed out school dis yr) nd cousins who r studyin abroad n even some for does help..n u know what..u can't possibly e-mail everybody..its tiring..scrapping is so much easier
    Besides u possibly cannot know ever1s email id ..but u can search for a person by one's name on orkut..n also get in touch wid friends u've lost touch with

    #2. One should exercise his/her discretion while "scrapping" some1 on shud only say things that one doesn't mind sharing with public at large. Most ppl ..i feel..DELIBERATELY say some such things on orkut..such as taking names u knw...bitching abt ppl n stuff lyk dat..i fail to understand why..
    private discussions shud b held on messengers or through e-mail.

    #3. Orkut helped me gain lost contact with my first crush..
    Orkut helped me solve a tiff with friend..
    I met my ex-dance instructor thru orkut..n cud chat up n all...
    I can keep in touch wid my favourite teacher thru orkut..
    I love visiting my class community as we play games n all dere..n share info ..such as who is goin to which coll..n all..and it wud become very difficult for every1 to e-mail every1 else abt dat..
    I got a lot of help from the i was planning to b a pilot i got to know a lot of things abt this profession thru a certain comm. for pilots..n i also got to interact wid a lotta pilots thru orkut

  34. Thanks for the nice post!

  35. Hey, We 'cheapgundas' are 3 guys from Bangalore. This is our 2nd video.

    Looks like you have been agonised by "Orkut Despo dudes"

    Are you sick n tired of "fraandships" requests from despos in Orkut?
    Do you get messages like:
    "Hey babes I am a kool dude wid hot looks"
    "Ur hairs is beutiffull, I am in luv instant."
    "Life is a garden to be filled wid rozes of love friends"
    "So lets friendship??"

    Who are these despo guys and why do they do this?
    Find the answer -
    Watch our Video and Listen to the message carefully at the end ;)

    'Orkut Despos-The agony of Babes'

  36. I have been reading your blog entries for a while, and they are very apt and very interesting.

    About Orkut, exactly my thoughts, that how on earth do people like passing scraps which whole world can view ! I guess Orkut has now given a feature to restrict the scraps only to friends. Still it is little baffling.

    I also am very irritated when had to read something written in 'SMS lingo'. Not understood why people want to use it. I dread that day, when we will be subjected to only such SMS stylized texts !!!!

  37. Haha, I came from the Facebook post. It's not as funny but I hate Orkut anyway!

  38. Thanx for the valuable information. I love orkut. But my friends are spending more time on face book. So Iv got no choice but to move.