Home >Companies >Orkut losing to Facebook in battle for market share in India

New Delhi: With more than half of India’s 47 million online population active on social networking sites, a battle for increased market share has sparked a war between the top two social media portals.

Facebook Inc., which runs the second most popular social networking website in India, rolled out an application that helps poaching users off its rival, Google Inc.-owned Orkut.

The application, placed prominently on its home page for at least 10 days now, allows users with dual accounts to transfer their Orkut contact list to Facebook in five simple steps.

As many as 34% of Orkut’s 14.4 million users are also active on Facebook, according to ViziSense, an Internet research firm. The number of Internet users in India is estimated by JuxtConsult, an online market research agency.

Industry experts believe the easy migration option could give Facebook, which has half the number of users, a much-needed edge over its rival in India.

“Orkut certainly faces a clear and present danger from Facebook in India," said Sidharth Rao, founder of Webchutney Studios Pvt. Ltd, a digital marketing firm. “Facebook, which was considered elitist a year or two back in India compared with other social networking platforms has managed to grow exponentially."

Although the number of users that have already moved out of Orkut with this option is not available with Facebook yet, an executive from a digital marketing agency said: “There has been a tremendous response from users towards this application which even caused Orkut to immediately disable this export facility on 1 October, but when users cried foul, it had no option but to activate it again and blame it on a technical snag." He spoke on condition of anonymity.

On 2 October, Orkut ran an apology to users on an official blog that read: “Yesterday, in the process of adding additional security measures to Orkut Friends Export, we inadvertently introduced a bug that prevented users from exporting their contacts."

Ironically, this application is no genius invention of Facebook. It is in fact a spin-off on a so-called data-liberation initiative that was undertaken by Orkut’s holding company in 2007 to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products.

The application, called OpenSocial, is defined on Google’s website as a common application programming interface for social applications across multiple websites.

Vihari Komaragiri, product manager, Orkut, Google India said that Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt does not believe in locking its users in. “He stressed that we did not want people to use our products solely because they cannot get their data out to switch to a competing service," said Komaragiri. “We encourage other companies to follow suit instead of trying to lock users into their products by holding user data hostage."

For Facebook, it’s all about building market share. “Importing contacts from email and other Web services gives people the opportunity to find the people they know when they join Facebook, which is really what Facebook is all about," a company spokesperson said by email.

However, with Facebook using Google’s friends export facility to its advantage, experts believe the data portability application could spell trouble for Orkut, especially since it has already started losing ground to its arch rival.

According to data by ViziSense, a unit of Komli Media Pvt. Ltd, the number of unique users per month for Orkut dropped from 16.95 million in June to 14.7 million in August, while Facebook’s user base increased by one million during the same period, from 6.92 million to 7.92 million.

According to Webchutney’s Rao, it is Facebook’s third party applications that have ensured user stickiness compared with rival websites.

“I do believe that more and more Orkut users will migrate to Facebook permanently," he said.

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