Orkut continues to undermine Google’s Data Liberation Front, whose singular goal is to “make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products”. Earlier this month the Orkut friend exporter, which makes it easy to export your friends’ contact information to a standard CSV file, was mysteriously broken due to a bug. The timing of the bug was more than a little suspect — Orkut has been hemorrhaging users lately in India and Brazil as people flock to Facebook, which takes advantage of Orkut’s friend export tool to help users make the switch. Now Julio Vasconcellos over at Armchairfounder has noticed how Orkut managed to fix their bug while still making it harder for members to switch to Facebook: the tool works, but it no longer includes your friends’ Email addresses.
In other words, now when you export your list of friends from Orkut, all you’ll get is a list of their names, location, birthday, gender, and links to the Orkut profiles. Which means it’s basically useless. Facebook can’t use the data to invite your friends, and you can’t use the data to actually contact and share with your friends, which is the whole point of a social graph.
We reached out to Google about the issue, and a Google spokesperson gave us this statement:
“Mass exportation of email is not standard on most social networks — when a user friends someone they don’t then expect that person to be easily able to send that contact information to a third party along with hundreds of other addresses with just one click. In order to protect user privacy, we now exclude email addresses from the CSV export file. Of course users can still export their friend lists in the CSV file. In addition, Google Contacts syncs with Orkut, so users can export their Orkut friends’ email addresses from Google Contacts. We support web standards such as OAuth and are working on ways to help users share their data more securely between social networks. We believe strongly that users own their data, and we’re committed to finding ways to make it easier for users to export data.”
Google is right in that this isn’t a standard feature on most social networks, but most social networks aren’t busy touting things like the Data Liberation Front and reaping all the positive press associated with it. And if this is really a privacy issue, it doesn’t make sense that Google would let you export Email data through Google Contacts but not Orkut itself. Spammers looking to figure out how to harvest Email addresses will doubtless figure out the process. Of course, Orkut users looking to make the jump to Facebook probably won’t.
Vasconcellos also points out that Orkut’s tool is unncessarily hard to use, and he’s absolutely right. When I went to test out the friend exporter, I was fairly certain that it simply wasn’t working at all. That’s because every time you click on the ‘Export Contacts’ button the site kicks you back out to your homepage, and only shows the “take your contacts with you” section below the fold. It took me way too long to figure this out (I even tested the feature out in two different browsers). And I doubt most people will put in that much effort.
It’s understandable why Orkut would want to handicap the feature and make it hard to use, but Google can’t have it both ways: it’s either open, or it isn’t.