Can Orkut founder's new social network Hello recreate the magic?

8 Aug, 2016

Remember Orkut? The social networking site was all the rage before it was eclipsed by Facebook. Now, Orkut's creator is taking a second shot at success.

Former Google engineer Orkut Buyukkokten developed Orkut.com in 2002 as an independent project within the search engine giant. He took advantage of Google's so-called 20% project that allowed workers to spend a fifth of their time on ideas not necessarily related to their job.

Orkut.com was the most popular social networking websites in India and Brazil before Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Inc. ruined its party. By 2010 it had lost the battle to Facebook in India and by 2012 in Brazil. On 30 June 2014, Google announced its decision to shut down Orkut.com.

Buyukkokten has now launched Hello.com with a small group of former Google engineers. He calls the social network, operated by US-based Hello Network Inc., as the next generation of Orkut.com. He even takes a dig at Facebook; Hello is a social network built on loves, not likes, he says.

In a blog post, Buyukkokten explains why he created Hello.com. "It saddens me to see that so often what we share online represents what we think the world wants to see in us rather than who we really are inside," he says. "When we don't feel safe expressing our true selves online, we isolate ourselves even more."

Hello is a social network that connects users with people and content around similar interests and passions. It is an app-only platform available on iOS and Android. The app requires users to sign-up using an email address and create a profile.

The users have to select up to five personas which include options such as actor, dancing, foodie, music and parent. The platform only allows image-based posts and each post has to be assigned to one of the personas.

The platform is currently available for users in the UK, Australia, the US, Canada, France, New Zealand, Ireland and Brazil. It is slated to launch in Mexico, Germany and India this month.

Compared with Buyukkokten's first stint, Hello will find help from a number of factors such as rising usage of smartphones and the Internet. Good recall value of Orkut will help, too. Industry executives say Hello could generate initial interest both among users and investors, though ultimately its success will depend of whether it has anything unique to offer.

Still, Buyukkokten will find the going much tougher in India than he did in his first stint. Already, a large number of startups are active in the interest-based social networking segment. These include Perchh, Brigge, Affimity, DIKY and Meet Up. Many of these startups have also attracted investors.

Brigge, an activity-based social network, raised seed funding from The Chennai Angels in September 2015. San Francisco- and Bengaluru-based Affimity secured $1.2 million in angel funding in February. The same month, Unlaze raised funding from entrepreneur-turned-investor Sujal Shah and actor Dino Morea.

These startups, however, don't yet have any significant market share or a large user base. So Buyukkokten's biggest challenge will come from his old nemesis—Facebook. Hello will enter a market which had 195.16 million Facebook users as of May 2016, according to online data provider Statista.

The biggest threat could also be an opportunity, however.

Prasanna Jaganathan, co-founder and CEO of Brigge, feels that all Facebook users won't opt for a parallel social networking platform but a lot of users may be willing to connect with other users based on shared interests.

"There is a considerable amount of fatigue when it comes to Facebook," he says. "If Hello can solve the problem, it can be a good alternative to Facebook or to people who are trying to find like-minded people on Facebook and are unable to so."

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