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On Orkut

Some weeks ago, your editor was invited to join the Orkut service. Having never played with a "friend of a friend" service before, your editor found the experience to be naturally gratifying. After all, a system which inspires others to make public declarations of friendship cannot fail to delight such a stereotypical, socially challenged, geekish sort of person. It's nice to know that somebody likes you after all, even if you can never aspire to the triple-digit circles of friends that the truly cool people have.

That said, the free software community may want to think before committing too much to services like Orkut. A good look at the Orkut terms of service would be a place to start. It includes some relatively interesting things, such as prohibitions on reverse engineering and even (surprising, for a Google-affiliated site) indexing the site. The truly fun language, however, is:

By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the 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.

So this site which, among other things, is supposed to facilitate business networking claims the right to make use of any idea which any user might post there. These terms may seem familiar: Microsoft attempted to get Passport users to agree to something similar three years ago. The company backed down after a public outcry; so far, however, Orkut users have been rather more accommodating.

There is a more fundamental question to be asked, however: if we, as a community, really want to document our associations, interests, sexual orientation, editor preferences, etc., do we really want to do so in somebody else's proprietary database? Social networks seem like a field in need of a great deal of experimentation; few people would claim that the best ways to aggregate, represent, and work with such data have already been worked out. If we're going to create a social network database, we should be doing so in a public manner that will allow free software hackers to play around with interesting new applications. We would almost certainly be surprised at what they would come up with.

One effort worth looking at is the FOAF Project. Rather than create a central, proprietary, indexing-prohibited database, this project is pushing for a distributed database built on individual RDF files. Such a scheme puts each participant in charge of their own data while making the whole network available for those who would create interesting interfaces to it. This project shows one approach to the creation of social network databases which avoids the problems of proprietary databases and restrictive terms of use. Doubtless there are others out there as well. We, as a community, do not need to put our time into the creation of somebody else's proprietary database; we can do better than that.

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On Orkut

Posted Feb 26, 2004 7:35 UTC (Thu) by gilb (subscriber, #11728) [Link]

One of the reasons that they have this requirement is that it protects them from potential copyright claims. For example, if they sold the company and database to another company, the would need the "sublicensable, tranferable" terms.

Likewise, if they change the format is some fashion, they need permission from you (e.g. permission to create derivative works).

If you post a patentable idea to the site, you would still retain the right to patent it (you assign rights only to the materials, not the idea) for up to 1 year afterwards in the US.

The IEEE requires a copyright assignment for documents submitted for standards development. They need a broad copyright license to ensure that they will have the right to publish the resulting standard or even to distribute the document among the members.

On Orkut and sharing personal data

Posted Feb 26, 2004 13:58 UTC (Thu) by dps (subscriber, #5725) [Link]

At least in the EU, most of people do not want too much of their personal data in public databases. Not providing information to all and sundry works well here and probably would work in the US too. If you do put information about yourself somewhere public then try not to be too shocked when random people find it.

Commercial databases in the EU are covered by data protection legislation which requires, amoung other things, that the data be protected and only used for the stated purposes. This usually means that the data can not be sold to third parties or shipped to places without similar legal protection (including not shipping the data to the US).

You would probably not be able to find my postal address, job, telephone or mobile number by web searching, despite my bank holding most of this information. I plan to keep it this way.

On Orkut

Posted Feb 29, 2004 9:07 UTC (Sun) by ken_i_m (guest, #4938) [Link]

I think Jonathan makes some good points.

To those points I would add some off-the-cuff observations. The interface to the discussion forum sucks. After a topic gets more than a dozen replies forget it. There is no way to branch threads (sub-threads), make an OT post to a thread or many of the other features expecting in any decent MUA. It suffers from all the typical handicaps of web-based forums and is not even as good as some that have been around for years.

Additionally, the centralized nature of the system makes extreme user preference support and other computational intensive features prohibitive. Again just as is found in most other web-based forums.

Social network software has been getting a lot of attention lately. The killer app in this space may be just around the corner but Orkut ain't it.


On Orkut

Posted Feb 29, 2004 13:07 UTC (Sun) by ghouston (guest, #10119) [Link]

This is old. It's a repackaged Advogato, which does have a "Show me the code !" link. If you want to try out these sites, I suggest a disposable email address from Mailinator and a fake name/profile. If you try Friendster here are a few "friends" you can add:
  • Linus Torvalds
  • Australia Australia
  • New Zealand New Zealand
(there may be more than one with these names: try them all).

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