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The short-lived fame of Orkut

When services such as Facebook, Friendster and MySpace were in their early years, Google launched a similar social media platform in the US called Orkut. Although it was not really noticed in most of the world, Orkut became a national sensation in Brazil (and also in India). It was the first website to bring social media beyond the circles of the young, upper class, white and urban populations.

Raquel was 15 years old in 2007 when, out of the blue, everyone of her age began to talk about Orkut. At that time nobody in her village had a computer at home - many still don't. So, just like her school friends, Raquel saved up her school lunch money and used it instead in one of the local internet cafés. During these early years of the internet in the village, people of Raquel's age would swap their Orkut passwords with those considered to be close friends. They would log in to each other's profiles and publish a post about how much they admired and cared for that friend. Password swapping demonstrated to their social circles that these two friends had a special bond. Popular students had more password requests and appeared more times in these posts.

As more working class people like Raquel populated Orkut, wealthier Brazilians began to complain about having to share the online platform with this mass of new users whom they viewed as 'backward' and 'loud'. But as the upper classes switched from Orkut to the more internationally-renowned Facebook, the lower income population followed. And in only a couple of years, from 2007 to 2009, Orkut went from being the coolest place anyone could be to becoming a sort of online 'ghost town', until Google officially terminated the site in 2014. But one thing remains: Brazilians still use the term 'Orkutization' to describe the process by which people considered as 'backward' and possessing poor taste quickly populate a new social media platform, such as Twitter or Instagram.