Why Google needs Orkut


12:37 PM |

Some random bits scribbled by Jeremy Zawodny

In all the discussion of Orkut I've seen so far, most folks are busy comparing Orkut to every other social networking web site around, typically they mention Friendster ("it's so much faster!"), but as we all know these sites are a dime a dozen these days. At least it seems that way.
What surprises me is that nobody has looked at it the other way around: What problems might Orkut solve that Google would otherwise find significantly more challenging?
Those that do seem to speculate about "applying your social network to search" and other exotic stuff, but I'm thinking of something far more basic than that: users.
That's right, users.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Google has millions of users!" Of course they do. How much do they really know about those users? Do they really have a user database from which they can mine interesting data? If they have one, it must pale in comparison to what Yahoo, AOL, and MSN have.
Rather than try to convince users to start "registering" for Google, why not piggyback on one of the most viral fads going around: a social network application? And, for added effect, make it an invite only system so that you feel special once you're invited.
Just think about it for a few minutes. If you've been thru the Orkut registration process, you know that it attempts to collect a ton of data about you. The kind of demographic data that marketing folks drool over. And right now there are lots of folks dying to get that special invite and begin the sign-up process.
Still with me? Good.
Let's assume that Google internationalizes Orkut and lets it run to the point that it has millions of users registered and active. That's not an unreasonable thing to expect. Then, one day down the road, they quietly decide to "better integrate" Orkut with Google and start redirecting all Orkut requests to orkut.google.com.
Bingo!
Suddenly they're able to set a *.google.com cookie that contains a bit of identifying data (such as your Orkut id) and that would greatly enhance their ability to mine useful and profitable data from the combination of your profile and daily searches.
Of course, we know that the "big three" already do this sort of thing to some degree or another. But Google's lack of intimate knowledge of their users is surely holding them back from doing some of the things they'd love to do. Many folks think it's just a matter of time before they try to get "real" users signed up.
Could this be the start of that?
[As I've said before in case it's not abundantly clear, I don't speak for my employer on my weblog. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs some serious medication.]


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