Orkut says 'Hello' again to India

Orkut Buyukkokten

Orkut Buyukkokten, the founder of Orkut.com, launched his new network 'Hello' in India on 11 April. The app is built specifically for the new mobile-generation and brings people together around their interests to create positive, meaningful, authentic connections and sustained social engagement.

News Today had an exclusive conversation with him where he spoke about Hello, Orkut, user experience and technology, among others.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q) Tell us about Hello.

A) We have two basic human needs. One is we all want to connect with one another and we all want to pursue our passion. Social networks today do not let us connect with the way we all connect in real life. The organic way we connect is through something we have in common. Over time, it gave an opportunity for a relationship to grow. It will be easy to meet people on Hello.

There are so many options (in social networking) and they all provide different benefits. If you think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they help you bring live updates, bring you broadcasts and followers. Similarly, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger bring you one-to-one communication. There are other sites like Tinder for dating and the likes. But none of those give all these services. There aren't many social apps that are about connecting people to one another.

Q) What do social networking sites miss these days?

A) Thinking about the old days of Orkut.com, one of the things it did was bring people closer and made the world a better place by creating new magical moments and helped you make better friends. It doesn't happen any more on social networks. The main reason is we are almost afraid to show our authentic thoughts and passion online. As a result, we end up building walls that separate us from the rest. Intimacy happens only when you share something meaningful with a person and risk is at the heart of it and people stopped taking risks online because there was so much fear of rejection and disapproval. As a result, we stopped connecting and we stopped building friendships. Togetherness comes from sharing experiences and with Hello, it is all about being real, authentic and sharing genuine emotions.

Q) Tell us about innovations that have been incorporated in Hello.

A) Hello was built on communities. These communities, they bring us closer together and they are also a safe place to share our ideas and interests. We have a very different way of looking at social things on Hello. When you sign up on Hello, you select the five things you are passionate about. Then we organise your entire experience around it. That way, all your contact becomes discoverable and sociable and it also makes it easy for us to recommend people and contact around the things you like.

Another thing that is very different is our social feed. In other places, the content is about people you follow and about sponsored advertisement. At Hello, we take into account your interest, your location, reputation and also your personality. Together, you get a lot of content that is personalised for you, because we know what your interests are.

Social network today does not show outside content and it always tries to guess what you like based on your usage. At Hello, we ask what you are interested in and we are able to create a much better user experience (based on it).

Q) Orkut was a big hit in India. How do you think Hello will perform?

A) Hello was launched a year ago and we are trying to improve the product constantly. When you look at feedback, it has been very consistent with the beta test in India with 35,000 users. When we talked to them, they said they are able to talk to people who are interested in things that they are interested in. They said it is also very welcoming and happy.

When we look at our engagement numbers, our users span around 320 minutes a month, which is higher than all social media services except Facebook. After our tests in India, we have made some changes, we are adding cricket, Bollywood and spiritualists. It also seems that child care is a big thing here: we are looking at that. There will be more content time and now you can also post external links.

There are also technical stuff that are different from user interface that include supporting older phones, taking into account low bandwidth an data since bandwidth and data are limited in India.

Q) In how many countries do you plan to launch Hello?

A) We want to launch in all the countries. India was such a loving community on Orkut. It was very successful, I believe, because of the generosity among the people. They like gadgets and they like to try out new products. It is all about bringing together people who are passionate and Indians are a lot passionate. So, we thought India would be a gateway to launch the app and we wanted to be in person. We are in six cities over three weeks - Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune. So, it has been quite an adventure.

Q) What do you expect from the Indian market with the launch of this app?

A) I think Hello is going to continue the tradition of Orkut by bringing people together and create a lot of magical moments by building bridges. I see Hello as the successor of Orkut. If you see social media today, it had brought out loneliness and isolation from one another. It is a place that causes a lot of depression. Studies around user happiness show that social media makes people unhappy. People do it anyways because they are addicted to having meaningless interactions. We think Hello resonates very well with the Indian community and we expect it to be very successful.

Q) Do you think social media has made people refrain from talking so much that now they are comfortable with just text messages?

A) I agree with you 100 per cent. We've changed the fundamental ways of how we interact and it is due to smartphones and texting and posting on social media instead of talking one-on-one. I think that is a huge problem in our society. One of the goals and visions on Hello is to change that. It opens doors and opportunities. There is a research that says we peak our number of meaningful connections when we are 25 years old and it declines after that. We need to connect more than ever. Social media has separated people and bought anxiety over the past decade.

Q) You always talk about connecting people through technology. What instance prompted you to take that path?

A) I am a nerd at heart. I've been programming since I was in fourth grade. I have a degree in computer science. I was always about building new technology and apps and crucially interested in people. I love people and I love building bridges and my wild and ever-lasting ambition became connecting people around technology.

Q) How brutal is the social media market nowadays for a new player to come in and make a mark?

A) We have two major issues in social media today. Companies are not transparent with what they do with their services and the second issue is that social networks are not bringing people together. They are isolating them. I feel a sense of calling to unite people together and create happy and uplifting experiences.

Q) What platform is Hello on?

A) Social media has transitioned from cup and saucers to a small bowl. Hello is a mobile app and it runs on iOS and Android. We are also going to support tablets. That is in the pipeline.

Q) Where do you see Hello in the future?

A) I think we have a very different core that we have for our users. We are not trying to replace WhatsApp and become the one platform for communicating. Hello has its benefits. Our goal is to reach hundreds of millions of users and we would rather have 10 million users who are very happy and connected, rather than have 100 million users who are unhappy and depressed. It is all about the quality of the user experience. Social networks today are not prioritising users, instead, they are prioritising brands and advertisers and share-holders, revenue and profits. Oftentimes, the AI's work is to increase the number of minutes. We are focusing on the user and make their experience better.

Q) Can you tell us specific methods that you have adopted for enriching user experience?

A) We designed a very rich experience with Hello and we are also very proud of it. We have used vivid colours and we have a lot of inspiration from things that people love. We bring the best from different industries to Hello.

Q) Do you incorporate local languages as well in Hello?

A) Right now, we have French, Spanish and Portuguese and we are looking to add Hindi.

Q) What about the team that worked on the app?

A) We have a team of 15 people who worked on it. We are located in San Francisco and our team consists of three sets of people. There are client and server engineers and we have engineers who listen to users and support them. Then, we have the design people who specialise in product design. One of the great things about Hello is our whole human design aspect.

Q) Can you tell us about the number of users Hello can support now?

A) A lot of things have changed since Orkut was launched. A lot of things work on cloud and we are on Google cloud that supports various systems. As a result, we won't run into issues like in the past, when social groups were new and systems weren't used to having millions of people online.

Odd man out
Life is hard for all of us. We have so much pressure from our families and from people around us to make the best choices and to excel and it is not an easy path for everyone. It is so important to be kind to one another because we do not know about their journey.

For me, growing up, I have been an outsider. In Germany, I was a Turkish boy in the class of blondes and in Turkey, I was they guy with a funny German accent. Then, I moved to the US and I was a European outsider. I have been always fascinated to meet people and getting to know them. It is just phenomenally exciting to explore the universe. I love to meet people. I think that is also why I am so passionate about connecting people through technology. That is what inspired me to use technology to make humans connect. A lot of that maybe comes from my struggling as an outsider.