A tete-a-tete with Orkut Buyukkokten: Hello is here to revive the human element of social media

Social Samosa
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Orkut Buyukkokten Interview

Orkut Buyukkokten’s yet another brain child entered the India market and this one is here to stay, or so it seems. Built around interest-based personas and communities, Hello is all about reviving the human element in social media.

Hello app has been available to early adopters in Brazil, with nearly 1M downloads, and has been available to a beta test audience in India for the past several months, with typical users spending over 320 minutes each month on the app. Reflecting the popularity of sport, entertainment, devotion, and technology in India, the top personas among beta users are Bollywood Fan, Cricket Fan, Entrepreneur, Fashion Enthusiast, Fitness Buff, Foodie, Music Fan, Philosopher, Spiritualist, and Techie.

For the unacquainted, Orkut Buyukkokten was the architect of the yesteryear social network, Orkut, which in its heydays enjoyed immense popularity, especially in the South East Asia region.

Social Samosa gets in conversation with Orkut Buyukkokten, to understand his views on data privacy, learnings from the gradual downfall of Orkut, and more.

What’s in the name?

Hello is a universal word and a kind gesture in itself. You can just say Hello and start conversation and Hello.com is about connecting people and bringing them together.  It’s the most fun way to start a conversation.

What motivated you to start-up Hello?

My ambition has always been bringing people together through technology and I was able to do that with Orkut.com. But, since Orkut the social landscape has changed drastically. From shopping to video consumption, everything is done on mobile; we have an entire generation connected to smart phones. It’s time to have a new social network for the current era and generation.

One thing that sets Hello apart from all the other social networks...

One of the most used features on Orkut.com was community it got people together basis topic and interests.  They provided a safe place for users to share their genuine feelings and thoughts and it also gave the portal an identity. Hello is focussed on building an entire experience around communities. The most natural way for us to connect with anyone is through mutual interest and passion and we have built the entire experience of Hello around that. Traditional social network has a social feed and the social feed uses a method which lets you see friends and people you’re following.

On Hello we have very different technology, where the social feed not only shows friends and people you’re following but also what kind of interests you have, your qualification, and personality. You will be able to see content that you’re passionate about.  Content discovery is limited to keywords and hashtags these days and there are different hashtags for different topics, and we end up over-using them which leads to them being ambiguous and useless.

When you sign up on Hello, you will be asked about things you’re most passionate about from a list of topics and then we create an experience around it. You could be an entrepreneur or passionate about food and so on; through such passions we make content easily discoverable

Also Read: R.I.P Orkut (2004 – 2014): An Obituary

How does Hello plan to break the monopoly of the Facebook media group? They have reined the social networking space and have many big ticket social media platforms in their kitty. What is the strategy in place for Hello?

There are two things I’d like to mention – Instagram has a broadcast model where you’re distributing content to your fans and followers. Then you have apps by like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for one on one communication, and then you have a single social network like Hello. Our platform is all about connecting people around the things they are passionate about. The aim is to create genuine authentic relationships through Hello.

The second point I would like to mention is that social media in the last 5-10 years has brought over a lot of anxiety, depression, and alienation from real life. People don’t share their real authentic selves online and it was not like this in Orkut days. Social was all about meeting people, making good friends; but the magic almost disappeared. It became about the number of likes you have or the number of fans and followers you have. With Hello we’re trying to make social happy again by engraving values such as kindness, empathy, and togetherness. These are the values of our society and these are the values we should respect on social media as well.

What are the things that you learnt with the rise and dip of Orkut and you would apply in the building of Hello?

Transparency is very important. We are transparent about privacy, about user data. If you see social networks today the users don’t know how their data is used and with whom is it shared. I would like to say that today it is more important than ever to be transparent about your practices. So, user privacy would come first, especially if you have a social media server, social about connecting people, they need to look at data safety first. Social media networks today care about the number of users, time-spent, and engagement. It is all about brands, corporations, advertisers, and share holders.

The next thing I would mention is it’s all about community – it’s all about people. And this is the thing that is missing in social media today. We are missing the human element.

Where does India stand in the scheme of things at Orkut?

One of the strongest communities Orkut had was in India and personally too India is very dear to me. The vibe in India is so welcoming. Also, people in India are very excited about new technology; we have a database of 35,000 users in India and we get great feedback from them. They said they have been having a fun time on the app and they have a welcoming and happy face. There are Bollywood fans, cricket fans, and many more connecting on the topics they are passionate about. We are excited to be here on the ground in person.

What is your monetization model and how do the current concerns on privacy and data breach impact it?

There is data that users submit and then there is data that companies acquire through various sources such as machine learning and AI to figure out what kind of apps they use. Often times it happens so that those impressions start following you all around the internet. So, you might notice that the product you searched on one website is all around your social feed. When it comes to advertising, it should be that ads enhance the users in a way how Google has done with search – when people search they find relevant links on the page.

We are going to make sure that we are transparent around how we introduce advertisements and make sure that users can opt in or opt out of seeing them. We let the target audience interact with the right content because we know what their interests are

Your thoughts on the current data breach debate that is going on and whether people should have control over their data, what is it that you believe in?

Respecting users and respecting users’ privacy is very important. It is surprising that you have a social media company that is checking everything, downright from what messages you’re sending to what you like to click on. It is a very disturbing experience. Ssocial networks have to be very transparent about what data they have and who they share it with.

Also Read: The Evolution Of Orkutiyas On Twitter

Will Hello be a platform for influencers, creators, and brands? How will you cater to that community?

Definitely. We believe that brands are very important and there are certain brands I really like. I would love to see brands that users are passionate about. With Hello we have a gratification system that we call Karma Coins and what it does is checks based on negative interaction on content and as a result, we distribute content based on reputation and as a result if you are a user who creates original content with people users like, we promote that content more. So, we don’t end up with problems such as fake news. On top of that influencers and celebrities provide value to the community. As I have mentioned earlier, we are the champions and we have past experience of users for which they would come to us.

How can marketers leverage Hello to their benefit?

In the future we will have pages for companies. But, brands can jump into Hello either way by creating a community and sharing content that is original, creative, and expressive. Content that users would enjoy. I would recommend brands to jump right in. I think the next important thing is listening to the users and paying attention to what they have to say and social media services provide value for that.

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