Indian Women: Avoid Orkut, Switch to Facebook

One of the most frequently googled post on this blog is Indian Women: Beware of Orkut. They use many different keywords to land on that post: photo misuse on Orkut, indian women abuse orkut, and so on. Sometimes, Orkutians post a link to my article while ‘scrapping’ their friends in Orkut, and I get several hits from within Orkut itself. OrkutYouthIcon

Well, we all know how Orkut is being misused, so why do Indians, especially women and girls, stick with it when there are better alternatives available? Facebook for example, offers some of the best privacy features among all the social networking sites. You can choose who can see your profile and what information can or cannot be searched. You can pick and choose select parts of your profile for a select group of friends. You can control what information is shared when you message or send a friend request.

If one is familiar with Facebook’s privacy features, one will feel naked in Orkut. So why do Indian girls and women still stick to Orkut? Bollywood stars have already started migrating in droves from Orkut to Facebook. Will their fans and the Indian public follow?

Here are some points to ponder:

1. ‘Critical mass’ is a significant factor in such communities. Most people will join what most others have already joined, propelling the #1 even higher in numbers. There are over 7 million Indian Orkut visitors in July 2007, compared to 0.78 million for Facebook. Orkut is MTV’s Youth Icon 2007. Another factor of course, is general knowledge and awareness of the Internet and other alternatives.

Facebook2. As per Agencyfaqs citing ComScore: “Facebook grew phenomenally in India between April and June 2007, attracting an additional 323,000 unique visitors. The privacy issue, especially for women users, is reflected in the better representation they have on Facebook. While 40.7 per cent of unique visitors from India on Facebook are women, they constitute 28 per cent in Orkut.” So, at least some Indian women are already getting wiser!

3. However strong privacy features you introduce in a social networking platform, it cannot protect you always. Like they say, if you make something idiot-proof, someone will invent a better idiot!

4. More intriguingly, I wonder if the lack of privacy features in Orkut are uniquely tempting for the Indian youth. Is our repressive social culture driving our youth to sneak and peek into each other’s Orkut profiles instead? Our present social context bans dating. Does Orkut provide a safe way to get to know some more information about that heartthrob in your college? Does it help screen that boy or girl your parents introduced to you on your own terms and on your own platform, away from your parents scrutiny?

If that is indeed the case, then networks like Facebook will never gain critical volume in India. What do you think?

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  • I think YES… I have already switched to Facebook… but I dont know the reason why… I didnt have any privacy concerns and I d have been more than happy to receive “Hi Would you like to be my friend” kind of scraps from girls 😉 Anyway, Facebook is definitely easier to use and unlike Orkut, its not non-pink ambience is really soothing for my eyes.

  • I have heard a lot of good things about Facebook. But as I hardly use orkut, although I have a profile there, haven’t thought of switching. But I guess people must not be switching due to force of habit, perhaps.

  • Oemar/Nita: Yes, Facebook is indeed better…and you may be right, it may be just habit. But aren’t the threats to privacy and the increasing number of abuse cases alarming enough to cause a switch?

  • I think if a site gets popular abuse cases increase. at least thats my feeling. more people use it and so do more cranks!

  • Nita: That’s right too. Just like the number of security hacks for a browser or an operating system depend on how popular it is! But Facebook’s privacy features are much more solid than Orkut’s so even if it becomes very popular, I don’t think it can be abused to the same extent as Orkut.

  • Pingback: Orkut or Facebook? at Blogbharti()

  • For starters, I have heard girls complaining about the complexity of facebook and the power it gives you sometimes strikes down the user. So I guess girls are more comfortable with Orkut. besides I think it has to be a social move because you can’t move ALONE, you gotta have your contacts moving with you too.

  • I would agree with Kapil to some extent. You have to move your network, not just you alone. We all know that making network was a long process on Orkut, searching for friends and all that… I dont think everyone is comfortable with going through that process again on facebook. Not saying that it wont happen, but very gradually. But facebook is not complex at all, just gotta get used to it.

  • Kapil/Oemar: one point you’re making is what I’m already saying in #1 in my post: it seems improbable that such a large, established Orkut base will move to a different network! Kapil’s point regarding usability is interesting: maybe the non-net-friendly Indians are not used to being power users. That can be one more factor in restricting Facebook’s rise and retaining Orkut’s popularity.

  • I don’t know about India, but everyone I know in Pakistan has switched to Facebook. There are already articles in newspapers calling facebook the “new orkut”. When that happens, and knowing that when orkut was popular articles about it as a social networking site were rampant, I get the feeling more than just my friends have migrated.

  • Shefaly

    Considering this post is from end-August, I am sure you have changed your mind about Facebook’s privacy practices being the best-in-class.

    The site is now open to Google and other public searches
    (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6980454.stm).

    Not just that there are enough fools on Facebook that if a tenacious identity stealer wishes to make a tonne of money, he/ she can browse FB for an hour and extract enough material to screw up a few hundred lives.

    Privacy and security are only as good as the people using the system; the weakest links are sufficient to bring the whole thing down. I do not believe for a second that those who did not learn to remain ‘safe’ on Orkut etc will benefit simply from switching their network allegiance. This could also lull them into a false sense of security which is a worse outcome.

  • Strayangel: Thanks for the update from Pakistan. It is interesting – India is mentioned very frequently in news related to Orkut, but not Pakistan…

    Shefaly: You are bang-on-target: I just felt it so ironical that Facebook did this just a few days after my post!

    I do believe that the ‘default’ settings are a critical factor in determining whether simply switching can help or not. If Facebook’s or any other site’s default options were safer, it can help. Because most of the millions of users are not computer-savvy, they simply go with the default settings. At this point, a comparison of the weakest links between the two sites becomes a comparison between the default settings.

    I still observe that Facebook’s privacy settings are much more granular than Orkut, however their opening up the site to public searches makes a mockery of all that granularity, however minimal the public search information may be.

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  • Facebook sucks..Orkut rocks all the way. And well, most girls I know think the same way too.

    Anyway, orkut has woken up to the challenge posed by FB and now offers terrific privacy options. And, FB with its recent mishap with Beacon just proved that it is not all that great at privacy too. So, my request: Let’s all stay with orkut..it’s amazing..

  • Now facebook is widely patronaged among the Indian women. Orkut is left over owing to its nakedness.