Google is shuttering one of its few successful forays into social networks, Orkut, effective September 30, the company announced in blog post published Monday. Fortunately for Orkut users, they can export their profile data, community posts and photos to other networks using Google Takeout.
Like the demise of MySpace, the fall of Orkut illustrates the incredible volatility of the first generation of social networks, and raises the possibility of a similar collapse during the second generation, dominated by Facebook and Twitter.
Although it never had much of a presence in the U.S., at one time Orkut (founded in 2004) was the biggest social network in Brazil and also had a significant following in India. In Brazil, which contributed around 60% of Orkut’s total user base, the network had 27 million unique monthly visitors in July 2009, 29 million unique visitors in August 2010, and 34.2 million in March 2011, according to comScore.
However Facebook finally arrived in Brazil in earnest in 2008-2009, and took direct aim at Orkut with a tool that allowed users to find their Orkut friends on Facebook. After a couple years of moderate growth Facebook started taking off in 2011 and finally surpassed Orkut in December 2011, according to comScore, which recorded 36.1 million visitors for Facebook that month, compared to just over 34.4 million for Orkut.
By May 2013 Facebook had 63 million unique visitors in Brazil, compared to just 14.2 million for Orkut, and by February of this year it was all over, as Facebook scooped up a whopping 65.9 million Brazilian unique visitors, versus just 4.8 million for Orkut. That put Orkut behind Tumblr, with 7.9 million unique visitors, and Ask.fm, with 4.9 million unique visitors.
While Facebook remains the world’s most popular social network by far, it’s interesting to consider whether it could ever suffer a fate similar to what Orkut suffered at its hands. True, Facebook and has achieved enough ubiquity that it is unlikely to ever simply collapse, dry up and blow away like Orkut. But I wonder if, in the face of competition from new social networks, it might not fade into the background, becoming sort of a basic social utility rather than a destination in its own right.
Some early evidence indicates this already may be happening: above all Facebook’s decisions to splash out billions for new, fast-growing social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat suggests the company is hurrying to keep up with the next generation of social networks by simply buying the fast-growing ones… before it gets Orkut-ed itself.