Jeremy Zawodny has an interesting perspective on why Google needs Orkut, the social networking site that was recently launched:
What problems might Orkut solve that Google would otherwise find significantly more challenging?
Those that do seem to speculate about “applying your social network to search” and other exotic stuff, but I’m thinking of something far more basic than that: users.
That’s right, users.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Google has millions of users!” Of course they do. How much to they really know about those users? Do they really have a user database from which they can mine interesting data? If they have one, it must pale in comparison to what Yahoo, AOL, and MSN have.
Rather than try to convince users to start “registering” for Google, why not piggyback on one of the most viral fads going around: a social network application? And, for added effect, make it an invite only system so that you feel special once you’re invited.
Just think about it for a few minutes. If you’ve been thru the Orkut registration process, you know that it attempts to collect a ton of data about you. The kind of demographic data that marketing folks drool over. And right now there are lots of folks dying to get that special invite and begin the sign-up process.
Still with me? Good.
Let’s assume that Google internationalizes Orkut and lets it run to the point that it has millions of users registered and active. That’s not an unreasonable thing to expect. Then, one day down the road, they quietly decide to “better integrate” Orkut with Google and start redirecting all Orkut requests to orkut.google.com.
Suddenly they’re able to set a *.google.com cookie that contains a bit of identifying data (such as your Orkut id) and that would greatly enhance their ability to mine useful and profitable data from the combination of your profile and daily searches.
Of course, we know that the “big three” already do this sort of thing to some degree or another. But Google’s lack of intimate knowledge of their users is surely holding them back from doing some of the things they’d love to do. Many folks think it’s just a matter of time before they try to get “real” users signed up.
Adds Dave Winer: “[Orkut is Google’s] identity system. At some point they’ll add a web services interface so our comment systems can connect to their back-end to validate users. Now you can go to one place to see all your comments. Then it gets better. Give it your credit card info, and then when you go to an Orkut-enabled e-commerce site, you can have one-click ordering (modulo a certain patent). Think about all the relationships Google has with sites that run their ads. Even I run their ads on one of my sites, and it’s a pretty good deal, that one site pays for the bandwidth on all my sites. Anyway, that’s a ramble. The net-net — it’s Google’s identity system, and if you trust them, it can be yours too.”
Its a compelling explanation, considering that the registration process and user profiles are what’s missing from Google (as compared to Yahoo or MSN).