What Orkut Really Needs

Google's software engineers <a href="http://en.blog.orkut.com/">report</a> that they've been busy giving Orkut, the company's social networking service, a face-lift. But perhaps what the site really needs is a new name for the U.S market.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

August 24, 2007

2 Min Read

Google's software engineers report that they've been busy giving Orkut, the company's social networking service, a face-lift. But perhaps what the site really needs is a new name for the U.S market.

It's true that short, memorable domain names are hard to come by, but if ever there was a Google product in need of re-branding, it's Orkut.Clearly, the word works in Portuguese or Turkish -- Orkut is named after its creator, Orkut BÜyÜkkökten, a Turkish software engineer at Google.

In Turkish, "orkut" apparently means "city of happiness, pleasure, joy, luck," at least according to someone posting a comment on this blog under the name Ali Ozkan.

In a blog post last year, Search Engine Journal editor Loren Baker offered several reasons for Orkut's popularity in Brazil. One reason, he explained was, "Orkut sounds like Yakult or 'iogurte' (yogurt). Yakult is the Brazilian version of the popular Japanese Yakult yogurt drink. Everyone drinks it in Brazil when they're kids. There is a totally unintentional instant association between the words Orkut, Iogurte, and Yakut in Brazil."

But it doesn't work in English.

I don't mean any disrespect to Mr. BÜyÜkkökten. I'm sure he's rightfully proud of his name. But it's just not right for a Web service in English. Not every word makes a good product name in every language.

As Validata International Linguistic Checking Services points out on its Web site, "Whilst we may think we live in a homogeneous global village, there are very real cultural and linguistic differences across international markets."

Validata cites the example of Fiat, which found that it had to rename its "Uno" model when selling it in Finland, because "uno" means "garbage" in Finnish.

According to the blog where Mr. Ozkan left his comment, Orkut is a Finnish slang term that I'd probably get in trouble for spelling out.

The fact that Google bothered to change "Froogle" to "Google Product Search" begs the question: Why not re-brand Orkut?

Orkut makes Froogle sound mellifluous.

Say it aloud. Go on. "Orkut!" Say it with feeling, preferably while shaking your fist.

Chances are those within earshot mistook your outburst for an insult. Either that or your office colleagues -- at least the ones who don't speak Turkish -- are now under the impression you're the sort of Tolkien fan who bothered to learn the Black Speech of Mordor.

Too bad "Gropester.com" is already taken.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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