When Friendster started, it was something of a first of breed. It was a club that you had to know about to get in, I’m told (by Scott Rafer, with whom I shared coffee and chat yesterday afternoon. Scott was one of the first few hundred or so into that particular club). It wasn’t like a million people rushed to sign up – no one knew about it unless they were told by someone else. It was a true Friend of a Friend network, growing organically. There was no need to put a velvet rope at the door – only those who knew where the door was could get in anyway. Friendster remains a place you can sign up for without an invitation.
Now, fast forward to today. There’s simply no way that Orkut could launch with the same approach. Too many folks would rush the door, and they’d swamp the system, which has to scale up from somewhere. Hence, Orkut is by invitation only, and in the past few days, an invitation into Orkut has been a something of a quiet wish for many in the Valley.
Now that I’ve poked around for a couple of days, it’s quite interesting to see how the network is growing. Not surprisingly the folks with the largest networks are nearly all employees at Google, who must have been testing the system for some time. This makes Google the Eden, of sorts, the point from which the entire network will grow (yes, for those of you reading closely, I chose Eden on purpose). It makes for an interesting anthropological study, in particular to watch how Google employees’ networks metastasize outwards to the Valley and beyond. I hope for history’s sake, someone is recording this progression.
PS – As one might expect, Orkut has a messaging and email interface. Should Google make good on the rumours of getting into the email business, it seems in Orkut they already have a pretty strong play.
PPS – As many have noted, including MSFT employee Robert Scoble, Orkut is built on MSFT technology. Odd, for Google to do this. It’s a different kind of site – registration-based, as Mark Fletcher points out – but still, why use MSFT stuff? Can anyone tell me?