I’m registered at Orkut, now. It’s an invitation-only “friends” network tied to Google. There are user profiles, messages, communities… reminds me strongly of the FirstClass-based BBS I built in the early 1990s, and its many cousins all over the world.

Of course, it’s slicker, web-accessible, and great emphasis is placed on rating people and building up a “network” of “friends” (note that these words aren’t necessarily used in their everyday acceptions here). The terms of service are not overly friendly:

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.

Then again, in today’s lawyer-dominated society, such was to be expected. Furthermore, all personal information you put into your profile will probably be processed, summarized, injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected, put through several statistical wringers and eventually be used to do something to you that is supposed to be precisely tailored to your interests.

<digression>Today, the spam I get is very easy to filter, because spammers know nothing of me beyond my e-mail address. So, anything that mentions contracts, schools, mortgages, loans, banks, medication, orders, jobs, diplomas, delivery, health, ebay, weight, tickets, meetings, members (including the male kind icon_lol.gif) and other similar topics must be spam. So, would I like to receive unsolicited e-mail about things that really interest me? Not easy to say, but I can’t rule it out beforehand.</digression>

Getting back to Orkut. At this writing, I’m informed that I’m “connected to 35862 people through 23 friends.” Nearly all of those I know personally or professionally. It’s very interesting to follow the network links. The communities I’m interested in have little traffic so far; I can’t see them substituting the dozens of mailing lists I subscribe to. It’s an intriguing experiment, but not truly compelling in its current incarnation; and it involves too much work. Even typing in username and password every time is sometimes too much…

As Jason Kottke said, perhaps we’ll soon need a personal social coordinator:

Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.

For a very interesting sociological analysis of social networks, see Danah Boyd‘s talk at the ETech conference.

That said, I recommend the Spherical Object Collectors community, created by my friend (in several senses) Mario AV, which already pointed me at this fascinating page about Hikaru Dorodango, or Japanese shiny mud balls.