What On Earth Is Google Doing With Orkut?

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Just spotted in Orkut, Google’s also-ran social networking site: a new Google+ badge, one of the first integrations between the two services. Orkut members who also have a Google+ account are now being rewarded in the form of a badge reading “Google+ user,” which they can choose to make visible on their Orkut profile. No, it’s not a big deal in terms of the feature itself (oooh, a badge), but it’s an indication of Orkut’s current status in Google’s eyes. Orkut and Google+ are different products, and both sites will continue to exist, the company tells us today by way of explanation.

“Orkut has a large user base, especially in Brazil and India, and we will continue to invest in the product,” notes a Google spokesperson. Wait really? How on earth does that fit in with your current social strategy? Sorry, Google, continuing Orkut support just doesn’t make any sense.

The badge was spotted over on Indian tech blog pluggd.in, which prompted the inquiry into Google’s official position on the matter. The company says that over time, it will determine how to best integrate the two products, and that we’re just now starting to see this play out. Things like the Google+ badge, a minor, non-threatening, but obviously awareness-raising new feature is one of those first steps.

Orkut, which still has a sizeable audience of 66 million, thanks to Brazil and India, is still far from dead, though it’s now losing out to Facebook in its home country of Brazil (comScore, January 2011). Google continues to support the service, even confusingly releasing a new Orkut iPhone app just last month, a move some dubbed “too little, too late.”

The increased Facebook usage in the few countries where Orkut once had an edge impacts Orkut’s metrics, but the shift is gradual. The service even grew by 5% in Brazil over 2011 and it’s still the 3rd most popular social network in India, behind Facebook and YouTube. So it’s not that users are shutting down their Orkut accounts, necessarily, it’s that, in time, they’ll slowly abandon them as they migrate to Facebook. It’s not too unlike how we all collectively moved from MySpace to Facebook. It didn’t happen overnight. (You may even still have a MySpace account, but the question is, when is the last time you checked it?)

Given the declining mindshare for Orkut, however, Google’s continued support for the service doesn’t seem to make much sense. Now is the time to strike, before Orkut turns into a wasteland of inactive accounts. Now is the time to shift those users over to Google+.

What’s surprising is how gentle the Orkut to Google+ shift is beginning – a huge difference from Google’s other efforts at forcing G+ signups across its platform. New Orkut iPhone apps? That’s a confusing message for a company that has pushed Google+ at all costs since its 2011 launch, even to the extent of compromising search results and cluttering up its stark homepage with a “share” button. But with Orkut, Google just treats a large chunk of the world’s social networking users as “those other folks,” using that “different product.”

Sorry, Google, that’s wrong. If your agenda is to kindly shove Google+ down the web’s collective throats through controversial Google+ search result favoritism, forced registrations, cross-platform unification and the like, why does Orkut get a pass? Look, I may not be a fan of the pushy, inorganic growth strategy Google has adopted for Google+, but it’s a strategy. And 90 million accounts later, one could even argue that it’s a strategy that’s working. But Google, if you’re going to go all in, don’t flounce around with Orkut. There’s a narrow window to push those Google-loving, social networking holdouts from one Google product to the next.

Kill the Orkut iPhone apps, forget the silly badges, and announce to the entire Orkut user base that all data will be migrated (or will be exportable) to Google+ in X number of days. Then prepare your blog post touting all the new users Google+ now has. (Sigh).

Image credit, Orkut badge: Pluggd.in.