"OK, I'm in!"—Orkut's exclusive launch triggers small world effect in real-time

In spite of the low-key nature of orkut’s launch yesterday, with the Google connection, it was bound to cause a buzz, and it did. One minor detail that was not mentioned in any of what I first saw about it is that membership is by invitation only. And I have to say that, while the site is decent enough (watch for a later post), this exclusivity may be the most truly innovative thing about it compared to the other plethora of sites out there. It’s also a brilliant marketing ploy—let me explain…

Every social networking site out there wants to grow its numbers, right? No matter what the revenue model, and no matter what the niche, more members = more money. So why on earth would a social networking site exclude people from joining? Because that causes it to be perceived as more valuable. Simple law of supply & demand. So now, everyone who’s heard about it wants to be a member, just so they can be "in". I even fell victim to it myself. My intention last night was to just go poke around a bit, get a little taste, and do a quick write-up. But as soon as I found out that I couldn’t get in, everything changed.

So here’s the small-world effect in action… No sooner had I typed a message on the Ryze Blogs & Bloggers Network and made a quick blog entry about orkut’s launch than I set out to figure out who I know that would know Orkut himself, or at least someone at Google who maybe works with him. Thank goodness I checked my e-mail first, ’cause I already had an invitation from Julian Bond. So, I got in, filled out my profile and started poking around. One of the first people I came across is the omnipresent Marc Canter, who, it seems, is networked to everyone else (big surprise!). One of the people he’s networked to is Stowe Boyd, whose blog, Get Real, I read regularly and thoroughly enjoy, but we hadn’t yet connected one-on-one. So I drop him a private message on Orkut saying I’d like to connect. Later in the evening, I got this e-mail from him:

That is creepy. I was just reading something you had written at your
blog about not being in at Orkut. I was looking for your email address
to invite you. Then your email popped up. Small world.

As I’m exploring the site, seeing who all I know, what sub-networks have been set up, etc., it starts to grow on me that an invitation into Orkut is a valuable intangible commodity (OK, maybe not that valuable, but bear with me), of which I have an abundant supply, only constrained by how much time I’m willing to spend inviting people. So what did I do? I went through my contact list and hand-picked NOT all my best friends—they’ll either ask, or I’ll get around to them soon enough—but those really choice contacts who I want to earn some social capital with. I used my "early in" to provide value to those contacts, increasing my Credibility, increasing their perception of my Relevance to their objectives, and Strengthening the relationship.

Seems other people are having the same idea, whether consciously or not. Orkut has grown to over 6,000 members (I’m connected to 5,000 of them—more small world phenomenon in action) in just two days, undoubtedly the fastest launch and probably the highest growth rate of any social networking site. Like I said, brilliant marketing ploy!

At some point fairly soon, given the small world effect, everyone who’s interested will know someone who’s a member, and that exclusivity will no longer be much of a factor. If you’re in, or can get in, you have a short window of opportunity to earn some social capital for yourself by inviting the right people.

After that, is Orkut worthwhile? I’ll save that for another post.