On Monday, Google announced that it would soon be shutting their decade-old-now-almost-defunct social networking site, Orkut. Orkut is, rather used to be, a very popular precursor to Facebook back in the day. I can’t help but get a bit misty-eyed.
Now, I am a child of nostalgia. You know there are a few of us out there. The ones who preserve dinner receipts and movie-ticket stubs and funny family pictures and with them, a whole lot of good memories. If you were to ever find my pile of nostalgia, you will find old letters, scrabble pieces, a soggy coaster from an old bar, and my profile page from Orkut. (I actually have a printed copy of the page. Yes, I do.) After all, this is where it all started. This was the ‘place’ where I first met the person who has been my spouse now for 3 years. It was back in 2007 (the official story is still that we met through common friends at a party).
The truth, of course, is that we were complete strangers and met in the ‘Greek and Roman Mythology’ forum on Orkut. Social networking had just kicked into gear in India and Orkut was the place to be. Not Friendster, not Hi5. If you were or even remotely aspired to be cool, you had to be on Orkut. One had to be fully clued in about the new lingo about the scraps and the testimonials and the DPs. And not to forget the elaborate ‘Profile’! There were columns like “The first thing you will notice about me…” and “Things I learnt from my past relationships…”. It may sound corny now, but in those early days of social networking, the profile proved quite a handy guide to finding your way to a new friend. As I recall now, under the column for ‘Looks’, my spouse’s profile read “mirror-cracking material”. I knew it instantly—I had found The One.
Orkut was notorious for its inability to filter the kind of crowd that had access to one’s profile. So among the fun folks, you were likely to find many a cheesy friendship request from what seemed like a secret army of boys in dark glasses and oily hair. “Will you do fraandship with me?” they would ask.
We, however, took a more genteel route. After months of locking horns in the quizzes over in the mythology forum, my spouse sent me a simple “Hi! Liked your profile. Would like to know you better. Can we talk?” And so we talked. He liked Tolkien and Dawkins and Darwin and football. I didn’t. I liked C.S. Lewis and Marquez and Mary Poppins. Scraps were exchanged late into the nights and well-thought out testimonials were written. He quoted Dylan (Bob, not Thomas) to me and I told him it was chauvinistic. And so we became friends. Life-long friends. The love came later, through long letters over gmail. (Maybe when they shut down Gmail, I’ll tell you about them.)
That was the kind of space Orkut was. It was open and inviting. You weren’t here to hang out with people you already knew. Them, you knew in the day-time. You were here to make new and exciting ‘fraands’. So you joined communities and forums to discuss your interests and passions. There was everything from college fraternities, school alumni groups to topical forums. There were live quizzes, heated debates and deep existential sophistry. Sure, it sounds quaint and quirky today, what with your borrowed status updates, tweets and re-tweets and Instagram-med hashtag-ed moments, but it was exciting as hell in those days.
I, for one, believe that there was greater interaction (or networking, if you will) between people in those vintage Orkut-days. Not the utilitarian socialising or vicarious spying and liking (enough with the thumbs-ups already!) that seem to suffice today. Random strangers could send you friendship requests and you would accept too (after a careful study of their profiles, of course). I made a few friends on Orkut. I never really met any of them outside the virtual world. The one I did meet, I ended up marrying. That is how good Orkut was.