My answer was Orkut, without any doubt.
For most of us, surfing the web meant google or porn or sending cute e-cards to friends. Orkut brought a meaning to our virtual lives. We all had a name, an identity, and a Salman Khan DP. Orkut began the trend of being cool on the internet.
I am also partial to Orkut for the way it revived the cyber cafes in Orissa. After the desi-baba days of the early 2000s, cyber cafes in Orissa were losing business. You see, for half a decade, the cyber cafes were the melting pots of Oriya people of all kinds. College goers, couples, middle aged office goers, the local electrician, school children, and every few months, the friendly cops next door. It was a virtual Madhushala and they all flocked for their daily fix.
And the cyber cafes acknowledged their diverse clientele by breaking technological barriers. There was a cafe called ClassicNet. This guy was the Walmart among Cyber Cafes, simply due to the innovations he had brought about in the domain of one-handed surfing. So if you were sitting in ClassicNet, you would hear a voice going,
“Bhaiyya, isko kaise chalana hai?”
“Kuchh nahi, bas ‘Enter’ button dabao”
You see, the guy would add all the porn clips to the playlist in Windows Media Player, and keep them ready. All you had to do was pay him, enter your cabin, sit on the stool, and press ‘Enter’. Customer is king, you see. And even kings have their needs.
But the internet cafes were losing out to home internet connections, till Orkut struck us like a lightning. Cyber cafes were again full of people, college goers who were adding the latest Altaf Raja blockbuster to their profiles in the hope of getting that elusive girl in college. Though Orkut today looks like Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, it began it all.
Who can forget the excitement of seeing who visited your profile, and then disabling ‘profile visitors’ so you could check out girls’ profiles? And the profile pages that had the ‘Professional’, ‘Social’, and ‘Personal’ columns. The ‘Personal’ section, that had interesting questions like ‘Turn Ons’, and ‘Looking For’ – where guys would expect to see ‘Wild Sex with strangers’ on girls profiles.
Before Orkut, web surfing was a personal affair. With Orkut, it became a common thing where people could talk about. Having a cool ‘About me’ was a must. Something like, “I yam wat I yam. Its mah lyf. Skrw da wrld”.
And talking about each others Orkut profiles was the in-thing in college discussions. So one day, I meet this guy and he says,
“Dude, I saw your testis. They are awesome”.
I was like, “What the fuck? How did YOU see them?”
“Testimonials, dude. They are awesome!”
And the communities that everyone joined just for the heck of it. Joining a community was more so that you could show it off on your profile. There were communities for everything, there is even an ‘We love Antara Mali’ community. So you joined any damn community, the last activity in which would have been before you even started shaving.
And the ratings that your friends gave you. “You are 70% sexy, 50 % cool, 20% smart”. And the ‘scraps’ that you could send to your friends,
Everything was going well, before Orkut started to act smart. They introduced Privacy Settings. This killed half the joy of being on Orkut in the first place. I mean, who would want to browse a girl’s profiles if all her photos were blocked and she was ‘Looking for: friends’??
Gradually, Orkut began to ape Facebook for everything. There was more emphasis on users safety, which doesn’t make sense. We are a nation which zooms at 90 kph on rainy roads without a helmet. Whoever thought of users’ safety? Gradually, every feature on Orkut began to look like Facebook, including a ‘What’s on your mind?’ button. But Orkut was about mindless voyeurism. There was nothing on our minds when we surfed Orkut.
There were changes made every week to the layout and features, and the early Facebook users began to look down upon Orkut users. So if you were in college talking about the latest way to get colourful scraps to your profile, the FB user would give you a disgruntled expression, saying, “I am not on Orkut. I am now on Facebook.”
But Facebook is no comparision to Orkut. In Orkut, you could ogle at anyone for as long as you wanted. If you did the same on Facebook, you would get a
“You are my top stalker. Creep.” written on your wall the next day.
On Facebook, you cannot make ‘fraandship’ with anyone, as some people have even blocked the ‘Add as friend’ option. It’s more personal, more sauve, and as a result, sucks.
But Orkut was something else.