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Popular social website revealed as college experiment

Orkut.com users were starting to catch on

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004 21:30 GMT

Mountain View, CA (HACT) -- Orkut.com, a popular social networking Website which has attracted the attention of some of the Internet's biggest names, was revealed today by its creators to be an elaborate "reality Internet" project to form the basis of a master's thesis.

"We figured we couldn't keep it secret much longer anyway," said Orkut Buyukkokten, after whom the distinctive blue-colored meet-and-match site was named.  "I didn't think we could do it this long in the first place, actually."

Orkut.com opened its virtual doors January 23 on an invitation-only basis.  Its user base grew rapidly, reaching over 50,000 in the first two weeks and attracting such Internet luminaries as Alan Cox, a well-known and important contributor to the open source operating system GNU/Linux, and Brian Behlendorf of the Apache group.

The site was revealed today as a data-gathering project for the master's thesis of a member of the Orkut.com team who wished to remain nameless.  "Last year I read the paper [Orkut Buyukkokten and colleagues] wrote and I was blown away," she reported in an exclusive interview with HACT.  "Then I just looked at my college fund and realized the amount of money I'd spend on grad school was more than it'd take to set up something like this."  Shortly thereafter, in November 2003, the project (and the master's thesis) was on its way to completion.

Similar to other social networking sites like Friendster, Tribe.net and Ryze, users of Orkut.com create a list of friends with whom they share "karma", rating the other person's trustworthiness or sex appeal.  Users can also freely create "communities", platforms for the discussion of topics ranging from "Fly Chicks for the Geeky Guy" to "AnyoneButBushin2004".

"I'm really upset about this experiment thing," said Rhonda Fourier, who signed up with Orkut.com on February 2, "but at least it explains the whole bizarre terms of service."  Shortly after launching, Orkut.com's terms of service were loudly denounced as overly restrictive by outside observers like The Register and Orkut.com users alike.  The oft-quoted passage from the terms of service reads:

"By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the orkut.com service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials."

"We had to have something pretty clearly worded or [the thesis author] wouldn't be able to publish the findings after everyone found out," said Buyukkokten.  "I'm actually amazed that more people didn't completely refuse to use the service."

Now that the secret is out, what will happen to the service?  "Oh, we're expecting a lot of attrition, but the bills are paid until the end of March, so what the hell?  Anyway, I have my data."  The thesis author added that all the data will be anonymized, "I promise."

    -- Mark Schalofski

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Please note that this is a humor article and is not true in any way, shape or form, except in that it rings true in a scary way