Those were different times, with longer days. The days when I was doing my Bachelor of Engineering. The Internet came through a dial-up modem, but was somehow more fascinating. My Yahoo and Hotmail inboxes had about ten megabytes of space each and had to be cleared regularly. Checking mail was a once-a-day activity. The rest of the day was spent with real-life friends, indulging in activities with real-world objects, like playing cards and carrom boards. In case I wanted to communicate with a friend or a relative living far away, I could use email, or chat.
Yahoo Messenger was used for chatting. Google was just a search engine.
Then one day, I received an email from a school friend. He was inviting me to join something called Orkut. I wondered what Orkut was, and how would it ever be useful. After all, the only person I knew on Orkut was my friend who had invited me. True, between us we invited a few more friends soon, but interacting through Orkut was an overhead. In the next year or so I dad collected about ten scraps on my Orkut profile. Then I went to join my first job, where I had nothing
Sitting idle for nine hours a day in an air-conditioned office, in front of a PC with a broadband connection, and getting a fat salary at the end of the month for it may sound like the dream job, but believe me, it is the most boring existence imaginable. To avoid going crazy from boredom, I turned to other activities - this blog, photography and Orkut. In the next three months the number of my scraps grew from ten to about a thousand.
Those were different times. The words "social networking" meant nothing. Blogging was a new fad. Facebook was yet to be launched. A tweet meant a bird call. And Indian IT companies had still not blocked Blogger and Orkut on their networks.
Orkut was a social network all right, and the very first one for most Indians of my generation. It allowed us to keep in touch with friends, stay updated on the latest gossip in the friend circle and post our photos for the world to see. We could even make new friends on Orkut. Two of my very good friends - Monami and Smita
- found me through Orkut, both of whom I later met in the real world. However, the biggest attraction of Orkut for me were not the profiles of people, they were the concept of "Communities." Communities were forums where like-minded people could discuss (or argue) about any topic under the sun, or beyond it. From Ray's films to digital photography, from Javan temples to Java applets, from origami techniques to oregano recipes, there were communities for everyone.
Those were different times, innocent and carefree. Anyone on Orkut could read anyone else's scraps and community postings, and view their photos. Privacy settings had not yet been invented, identity theft wasn't a concern. People did not fish for "likes" on their posts. Sure, comments felt good, but otherwise we were content to just have a corner of the Internet for our photos and opinions for people to see.
I first heard about Facebook in 2008, a few months before I came to the US. I opened an account, but even long after coming here, Orkut remained my preferred social network. There was too much happening on Facebook - applications, games, wall posts, updates. Facebook was like Times Square
. Orkut, in comparison, was like the quiet suburban town
where I grew up. It was not cool, not happening, but for a heated discussion with friends, it was still the best place. Until the friends started moving to Times Square.
I gradually stopped visiting Orkut sometime around 2011, and my biggest complaint about Orkut was, "They are copying Facebook too much." Since then, Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds and peoples' interest in Orkut has dwindled away. Some of the communities that I visited often, like the ones discussing Bengali literature, have moved to Facebook. Also, Google+ took off, and it was unlikely that Google would be running two social networking sites so I had been expecting to see the notice for some time. It finally came. Orkut is closing down on 30th September 2014. People are requested to move all their content to Google+ or elsewhere.
And although I had not visited that website in three years, I felt a pang of sadness. Orkut was a remnant of the bygone days - days when we were immature enough to write public "testimonials" for our online friends, and shameless enough to display testimonials written by others on our profile pages. When people would rate their friends on how trustworthy they were, and become "fans" if they liked them too much. Facebook may have 1.3 billion users, but it lacks that personal touch that Orkut had with less that 100 million of us.
But all good things must come to an end, and Orkut is no exception, Maybe, someday, Facebook will be shutting down while some more popular social network with even less personal touch will be taking its place, and I will be lamenting about the memories associated with Facebook. But till then, I will miss Orkut and its scraps and its testimonials and the good times it gave me,
Goodbye friend! Those were good times, the time we spent together. Those were different times.