29 January 2004

Orkut. It’s one of those trendy things that is like Friendster. I got an invite onto it today, which, given it’s invite-only, I wasn’t going to turn down.

So I spent about twenty minutes this afternoon filling out my information, typing in my favourite books and films just like I did for Friendster when it hit me:

Why the hell was I doing this?

I don’t know, to help someone out with their product. Anyhow, A more solid trial of Orkut has led me to the following conclusion: it’s terrible, and I have no idea what it’s for. Let’s outline those problems in full.

  • It’s lilac. It’s ugly, essentially. It’s also lazily designed – the type for my name on my profile is horrid, the caps look wrong, and I barely noticed those tabs top right of the profile. Not many points for design.
  • The UI is really odd. OK, so say I have Tom‘s list of friends up to see if I know anyone in there, and I see someone I’m interested in. I click on them to see their profile. Do I see their profile? No! I see their list of friends. More faces. The more you click, the more faces. You actually have to click “profile” in the left submenu once you’ve found someone this way. This is fundamentally crap. I want to go from friend-lists to buddies, not from one friendlist to another.
  • Communities: I don’t get them. I’ve been on yahoogroups, mailing lists, all these things. Communities are much like the messageboards for a school on FriendsReunited. Except I don’t get them, here. On Friendster, if I clicked on one of my interests, I could see other people with that interest, too. I’ve done that on Orkut already, except I can also have a badge and belong to a community of people who like, say, web design, as well as being interested in it. What the hell? What’s the point? So I can have a little messageboard? Now I’m throwing too many things into one basket; surely dedicated messageboards would be better, or even a Yahoogroup? Follow the example of iLife: lots of little things that work together. As it is, most communities are overlapping with interests, underdeveloped and scattershot; on a single persons profile, I can see nine of however many of their friends, nine of however many communities, plus all their standard info. It’s worse than watching Sky News; it’s information overload gone mad.
  • I don’t like the terminology. I hated the terminology of Friendster. I hate this more; not only do I have to call everyone a Friend, but then I can rank them, or be a Fan. You can’t be negative about people, you can just be more positive. So: I like x, but I like y more. Or: I know x, but I am good mates with y. But this is silly, because it ranks people according to number of vague acquaintances, as if it were some competition; not according to number of strong friendships. Too many terms; I don’t want to rate my friends like they’re eBay sellers. In fact, a lot of Orkut reminds me of eBay. But friends are not like knicknacks I want to flog.
  • What’s it for? I have no idea. I quite like the selectable privcay (who can see what info); I quite like the job-related stuff. But it’s too many things all at once. If I want to find out about a person, I don’t care about their education. If I want to hire someone, I don’t care how tall they are. In fact, I don’t care about most things on the site. I don’t make friends this way, I just find out more about people, but a lot of the time it’s too much information. And it just makes me scream. All these people are on it, all in this big circular chains of A-list tech and web people and bloggers and writers and stuff, and it’s just so boring and when I’ve clicekd on all those faces and found out not much other than how tall Matt Haughey is or what food someone likes, I just want to scream. I’m told these things are important, but I honestly cannot see the point.

And that’s it, really. It’s not only a bad piece of software, it’s pointless. Not only does it use irritating terminology and make most fuss of the weakest connections, it’s also overburdened with features, and yet it still hasn’t told me why I should use it. There’s no killer feature (bar the lilac). I have the people I know in my email book, in iChat. I have their friends linked off their websites, or a google away. Or, you know, I could ask them for an introduction by email, or something. I don’t need so much information in the network.

I’m just confused, I guess, being a lowly writery-person with an interest in tech, rather than the other way around; I don’t know what I’m meant to do with this software, other than scream and swear at it as it does stupid illogical things and is generally useless. What I do know about social software, though, is that Warren Ellis is right here. Software can make us more social, but it can’t make us better at it. Finding out about degrees of seperation is interesting and surprising. Making a Community for people who like drinking tea and setting it to a lilac background is, frankly, bollocks.