Monday, April 10, 2006

Anthropologist needed: Why Orkut in Brazil but nowhere else?

Google seems to take a statistical approach to product development. They try a lot of things and see what sticks.

In the US the social networking application Orkut failed, but the rival is popular. (Everything I read about suggests it's about adolescent display and mating, so why isn't that explicitly discussed? No, I've never visited it ...).

In Brazil, however, Orkut is huge. There are 12 million regular net users in Brazil, and 11 million are said to be Orkut users:
A Web Site Born in U.S. Finds Fans in Brazil - New York Times

... In general, though, Orkut fanatics seem undisturbed by illegal activity on the site, which most of those interviewed said they had never come across personally. They were more interested in finding long-lost classmates and friends, one of the site's most lauded abilities. Schools, workplaces, even residential streets have "communities" joined by people who have studied, worked or lived there.

And everyone has stories of romance foiled by a telltale posting. Ms. Makray once found the page of a man who had flirted with her in a club. "He hadn't told me that he had children or that he was married," she said. "I discovered it on Orkut."

Erika Laun, 23, checks Orkut every day from work to keep an eye on her boyfriend. "When we were first going out," she said, "a girl who liked him was always sending messages and making fun of the messages that I sent him." The rival's sister, whom he didn't even know, helped out, sending messages like "Hey big boy, love you, 1,000 kisses."

"I was really angry," Ms. Laun said.

No one quite knows why Orkut caught on among Brazilians and not Americans, although the fact that it is an invitation-only network might explain why it exploded in Brazil. In a 2005 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Mr. Buyukkokten said it might be because Brazilians were "a friendly people," and perhaps because some of his own friends, among the first to join the network, had Brazilian friends.

Fascinating. Why did Jerry Lewis become huge in France, even as he disappeared in the US? Why are some movies flops in the US, and winners abroad? Is it all culture, or is some of this simply chance -- that Orkut reached a 'critical mass'/'tipping point' in Brazil that it never reached in the US? (Social networking applications have a non-linear value, just like email. Their value is a power function of users, not a linear function. So they can be worthless below a certain user threshhold, then quickly become very valuable.)

A great sociology paper should lie here, but the topic probably crosses the boundary between anthropology, sociology and economics. Hard to publish.

It's noteworthy that the examples given in the article are all about mating ...

No comments: