I still remember that sleepy post-lunch classroom session when I was trying my best to remain awake during a boring lecture and as my attention wavered, I was surprised to hear a couple of my friends sitting next to me talking about scraps. I was astonished because why on earth would anybody talk about scrap (waste & recyclable material) and found it funny as well because throughout the lecture, they were saying things like “I scrapped you. You scrap me. I will send a scrap tonight”. Sending scrap? Is this some kind of raddiwala business? And what was funny was the one of them was happily boasting that his girlfriend scrapped him!! What?? A girl scrapping (discarding) her boyfriend should have been such a bad news for the boy, but here he is, boasting it with pride.
After the lecture, as the class dispersed, I met them in the corridor and asked them what that “scrap discussion” was all about. They explained about this new website called Orkut which was like a club only for a privileged few who had invites to join. Since my friends knew some ppl in US who were members of the website, they had received invites from those ppl and after becoming members, they had in turn sent invites to their friends and asked me if I would also interested to be join it. Typical of me, I asked them if it cost money , and when they said it was free, I jumped in.
I was mesmerized by it because it was like stepping into a vast virtual world where it was very easy to get lost. For the first few days, I received “scraps” from friends welcoming me to Orkut. Somehow, I never found the concept of scraps to be of use (nor for fun), because the same could be accomplished using email as well. However, the concept of profiles & albums was interesting and for the next few days, I was busy finding/searching friends from childhood & schooldays. I was astonished to find out how much they had changed over time and curious about what they were doing (studying, working). That was when I realized the power of social media and how it could be used to bring old friends together and similarly, bring like minded people also together.
The next step was to join “communities” which were similar to “internet forums” but the similarity ended there. These communities were like small parallel worlds where people discussed and when they found like minded people, they would add each other as friends and in many cases, went on to become friends in real world as well. What was special was that those friends would be coherent in one community, would ferociously fight (argue) due to difference of opinions in another community. For example, 2 friends who were Bajaj owners would agree to each other like best friends in an automobile community, but would fight with each other like enemies in a phone community because they owned different brands and criticized each other’s brands. That was when I practically learnt about “fanboyism” and to what extent people (fanboys) can go to defend a brand they are fond of.
Apart from participating in some popular communities and eventually being promoted as “moderator” in such communities, I also started a few communities and nurtured them by inviting people from all walks of life. Once in a while, there would be invasion of fake profiles with an intention to spam discussions (which were called “threads”), abuse participants and do every possible thing to seek attention or drain energy out of participants. That was when I learnt about “trolls” and over time, learnt how to handle (interact with) them. Some of them would even disguise themselves in fake profiles with girls display pictures to promote their brands and criticize rival brands.
The activities in communities were usually fun filled because we would play games like story writing where each person would contribute 1 paragraph, leading to some really interesting scripts which I think were anyday better than Ekta Kapoor’s serials. Every community would have some highly experienced & cooperative members who would provide valuable advice when requested. There would be threads for troubleshooting where experts would guide others into solving their problems related to that field the community was built upon. (Phone experts helping newbies to fix problems related to their phones, Bike enthusiasts helping newbies to improve their bike mileage etc)
This way, profiles, scraps, communities, moderators, fanboys, trolls & threads in Orkut had in a way exemplified the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in which millions of people across the globe gathered, discussed, fought, taught, learnt, helped each other, played games, shared experiences and more.
Over the next few years, Orkut faded into obscurity due to the the rise of Facebook & Twitter which became the new stalwarts of social media. But deep down in our hearts, Orkut still holds special significance because that was the website which opened the doors to a close knitted global virtual world and gave us a glimpse of how the future of social media would be.
Today, Orkut is being laid to rest, and will no longer be accessible.
As they say, “The body changes but soul remains the same”, the soul of social media pioneered by Orkut will continue to remain and will grow larger & stronger by accommodating many more people all over the world through many more facades & platforms (apart from facebook/twitter), facilitate revolutions, and will continue to play much bigger roles in shaping up the future of our civilization.