In 2004, fresh off a failed attempt to buy hotshot-of-the-day Friendster, Google GOOGL -0.17% launched Orkut.
The fledgling site was Google’s first foray into a social network in the days before anyone knew what a “social network” was. Facebook launched a month later and quickly rose to prominence. Orkut never caught on in a meaningful way outside of Brazil. But it has nevertheless stayed alive for ten years — until now.
Google will shut Orkut down at the end of September, the company said Monday in a blog post. Users can export their profiles and other information using Google Takeout until then.
Google killed Orkut to focus on YouTube, Blogger and Google+, where community growth “has outpaced Orkut’s growth,” wrote engineering director Paolo Golgher.
Orkut, named for its creator Orkut Büyükkökten, had a surprisingly long run given its steady demise over the last few years — a possible indication of Google’s reluctance to give up on a social network. It’s also an example of its seemingly arbitrary decisions on when to kill a project. (Google Reader fans still mourn the sudden execution of a much-loved product.)
Orkut’s stronghold in Brazil was largely a fluke. The company never intentionally marketed the site toward Brazilians in its early years, but as it became the biggest player in the market, Orkut’s operations were moved to Brazil in 2008.
In 2010, Facebook overtook Orkut as the top social networking site in India with 20.9 million visitors in July that year compared to Orkut’s 16 per cent growth with 19.9 million visitors, according to research firm comScore.
In March of 2011, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was still touting Orkut’s prominence in Brazil as a sign that Google had social networking muscle to be reckoned with.
At that time, it had 32.7 million users in Brazil — three times as many as Facebook — but that didn’t last long. Six months later, Facebook took the lead, and Orkut never reigned again. By late 2012, Facebook dominated. In a comScore study of time spent on social networks in Brazil, Facebook led the way with 92.8 percent of the pie. Orkut had less than 2 percent.
With that final snuff of the candle, Orkut was reduced to another item on the list of Google’s failed attempts to conquer social, sitting alongside Buzz and Wave. And after Google+’s recent departure of its head Vic Gundotra, followed by a conspicuous lack of stage time at the Google I/O conference last week, overanxious observers may see Plus headed down the same path.
But if Orkut’s years of hanging on are any indication, it might be a while before Google officially raises the white flag over a potentially dying social network. Until then, RIP Orkut.