Are Orkut updates harbingers of Google's social strategy?

Remember Orkut? Yeah, you're not alone if you said no.

Remember Orkut? Yeah, you're not alone if you said no. Orkut was Google's first foray into social networking and, while it never took off in the States, it did in some countries (in particular, India). And, surprise, surprise, even India has chosen Facebook over Orkut. However, Google made some updates to Orkut this week, suggesting that the platform most of us assumed had been left to die on the vine of perpetual beta might have life left in it after all.

More interestingly, though, these updates were clearly aligned with a presentation that Paul Adams, Google's chief social researcher, made a month ago. As reported in Fierce Content Management, Adams outlined the differences between the way we actually live, work, and play and the way that Facebook deals with social contexts.

His presentation is spot on and, while he claims that the problem "isn't Facebook," it's clear that Facebook, as the dominant paradigm, presents some unique opportunities for Google.

The Orkut Blog, in announcing new features today, suggested a different approach to social media that could solve some of the problems that Adams outlined. The Debbie in Adams' presentation above is the moral equivalent of Sarah in the Orkut video below, but the message is coming through loud and clear: Social media are incredibly powerful, but all of this power needs to be focused and compartmentalized to provide utility in all aspects of our lives.

Before we get all excited and assume that the quietly relaunched Google Orkut is the fabled Google Me, let's look at the messaging coming across in new Orkut home page, Adams' presentation, and yesterday's Orkut announcement. The key themes?

  • "Groups of friends"
  • "Privacy that works"
  • "Post anything from one place"

Orkut is hardly in a position to overtake the heavily entrenched Facebook. However, Google is bringing some great ideas to the table that we can pretty safely expect to see in whatever social media platform they finally deliver.

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