If you wondered where all those dot-com employees went, look no farther than Orkut. Google's entry into the social networking realm takes the idea of a circle of friends a couple of steps farther. Unlike Friendster, you can't just sign up for Orkut. Someone's who's already a member has to invite you.
Although it's billed as a "network of trusted friends," like Friendster, the definition of friend is a bit lax. For one thing, from your homepage you can browse your friends' networks and those of their friends as well (see Figure 3). For another, it is possible to search by first or last name, instead of both (which Friendster requires). Also, Orkut encourages the formation of communities based on common interests: hobbies, universities, cities, and other mutual interests. So whether you're a fan of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, you're a resident of Framingham, MA, or you really really like sushi, you'll find a community you can join on Orkut.
Figure 3 Orkut offers an online hangout for individuals to connect on a one-to-one basis.
In classic Web-style of false intimacy, you can see a person's picture, the communities he or she is part of, and on just because you're the friend of a friend of a friend of theirs. Privacy settings allow you to determine who sees your contact information in the real world, and you can screen out contact from those you chose to via an ignore list.
Orkut is an engineer's dream come true. It's the brain child of Google employee Orkut Buyukkokten, built in the 20 percent of time in which Google engineers are allowed to develop independent projects. It is rich in features with an internal messaging system, bookmarks, and lists (to keep track of those you think are hot, or not), plus an internal "karma" system. Friends can secretly rate you as being cool, trustworthy, or sexy. When five or more people have rated you, icons appear displaying your "karma" or level of cool or trustworthiness (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 Orkut divides your profile into three areas: social, professional, and personal.
Like the others, Orkut is in beta, but the only beta thing I noticed was a tendency for pages to time out, particularly in the afternoon (East Coast time).
Orkut tries to be all things to all people. If you want to find a date, Orkut can help. If you want to hang out with friends, Orkut can help. If you're building a business network...you get the picture. Though supportive of Orkut's endeavors, Google says it currently has no plans in the social networking space. In the meantime, there are tools and members to support the growing community.
Top three non-computer communities as of April 7, 2004:
The Simpsons (3,571 members)
Photography (3,055 members)
Anyone but Bush in 2004 (2,876 members)